Explaining the Republican loss of Senate District 26 boils down to a few questions:
- Why did Ernie Harris wait so late to announce he would retire from the Ky. Senate?
- Was it absolutely necessary to hold the Special Election as part of the 2020 Primary Election? Who made the decision and why?
Though other factors could be analyzed, those seem to be the main ones to explore.
Some background on the race
Sen. Harris was first elected in Nov. 1994 with strong support from Right to Life. Registered Democrats outnumbered registered Republicans 4-1 in the region which at that time included seven more counties. Senate District 26 now comprises Oldham Co, and 44 precincts in NE Jefferson Co.
The Republican candidate, Bill Ferko, a successful business owner and an exemplary conservative in his life’s activities over many years, is the very sort of person Republicans love to vote for. He worked hard and invested his own money to gain more exposure through media advertising. He received contributions from some PACs. We were so fortunate he stepped up to the plate!
The Democrat candidate, Dr. Karen Berg, had run a good race in 2018 against Ernie Harris. She was a graduate of EmergeKentucky, a left-leaning nonprofit that trains Democrat women to win political campaigns, so she had a network of volunteers on board. Contributions from Democrats such as Rep. Mary Lou Marzian show us that Berg is not likely to vote pro-life.
Some factors to consider
The COVID19 virus changed the election in many ways.
1. On March 16 SOS Adams announced that the date for the Primary would move from May 19 to June 23. The deadline to register to vote was moved up to May 26. With 354,563 registered Democrats in Jefferson Co. as of mid-July 2020 and 353,932 as of mid-May 2020, the Dems gained 631 voters for the Primary. The Republicans lost 311 voters since 199,986 were registered in mid-May and 199,675 in mid-July. It’s hard to say how this occurred. We have not taken the time to evaluate whether this affected the Ferko precincts but will assume some effect.
2. On May 14 the media reported that Jefferson Co. would have only one polling location, the Ky. Expo Center, that would be overseen by the National Guard. For a person in NE Jefferson Co., it could take a half hour or more to reach the Expo Center. Also, the prospect of military oversight may have provoked many to request an absentee ballot.
However, it was acknowledged by the SOS that the goal of the USPS was not to lose more than about 4% of the ballots, and in the end, about 5% of voters did not complete the ballot accurately, disqualifying their vote. Whether any of these were in D26 is unknown.
3. Insiders said that the McGrath-Booker hysteria brought in loads more Democrat voters, pushing up the numbers.
4. Perhaps Republicans generally did not realize that the Senate Special Election was to determine the candidate who would serve through 2022. There would be no chance to cast a vote for Ferko in November.
In Jefferson Co., for the 44 precincts in D26, Berg got 15,033 votes, and Ferko got 7,604. In Oldham Co., of 38 precincts, Ferko got 11,101 votes and Berg got 9,738.
In 2018, of 57,227 votes cast, Harris got 29,625, Berg got 26,524, a difference of 3,101. (The Independent got 1,078.) In the June 2020 Primary, the total votes were 43,534, with 58 cast for the Independent. That means 13,693 fewer people voted in 2020 than in the 2018 General Election for this race. Ferko got a total of 18,705 and Berg, a total of 24,771.
Yes, 6,066 votes is a significant difference, however, for a Primary, it was a good turnout. COVID19 affected the outcome, but was not the largest factor. Mr. Ferko could have gained far more support with more lead time.
Sen. Harris announced he would step down in early April. His announcement was reported in The Oldham Era newspaper online on Friday, April 10. He stated, “My career is about to end, it’s been a good career and it’s time to move on,” He felt he had achieved his goal to get funds for widening I-71, and wanted to spend time with his family. He said his decision to retire was already made back in 2018 when he ran for reelection. He said he knew that would be his last election and was actively considering retiring midway between his term.
But who else knew this?
The article noted that a special election to fill Harris’ seat would be held on June 23; the Republican and Democrat executive committees for Oldham and Jefferson counties would make the decision on who to put forward as candidates. We wonder, was it absolutely necessary to cram the race into the Primary?
Had the Primary taken place May 19 as originally scheduled, this would have left about a month for the candidates to campaign. Even TWO MONTHS was not enough for Mr. Ferko. Berg already had name recognition and an easy path forward.
Perhaps this article can encourage pro-life legislators to carefully consider their retirement decisions.