Kentucky & Arkansas Primaries: Conservatives, Incumbents Cruise

May 23, 2012 · 10:15 AM EDT

Conservatives got their preferred candidates in open seat races in Tuesday’s primaries in Arkansas and Kentucky, but national Democrats weren’t as lucky. And results in both states demonstrate Democrats’ continued struggle to get elected in the South.

In the Bluegrass State, tea party favorite Thomas Massie cruised to victory in the GOP primary to succeed retiring 4th District Rep. Geoff Davis (R). Despite being from the eastern, less populated, corner of the district, the Lewis County judge-executive earned 46 percent of the vote in a race that is tantamount to winning a seat in Congress.

Establishment-backed state Rep. Alecia Webb-Edgington earned 29 percent and Boone County Judge-Executive Gary Moore took 16 percent, but Massie was able to overcome his initial disadvantage with endorsements by Sen. Rand Paul, who cut an ad for his in-state protege,The Club for Growth, Freedomworks, and a new Texas-based Super PAC funded by a wealthy college student, who spent over $550,000 on ads for Massie. In the end, those groups gave Massie the financial muscle to significantly outspend his opponents on television.

Before his victory on Tuesday, Massie ruffled feathers early in the race after he continued to run a television ad featuring old comments Davis made about Massie on the House floor (before the congressman made his retirement announcement) after the congressman asked Massie to stop airing the ad. Before that time, Davis hadn’t endorsed in the race but he ended up supporting Webb-Edgington.

Massie is expected to cruise to election in November in this safe Republican seat in northern Kentucky.

In the 6th District, 2010 nominee Andy Barr (R) easily won his primary and will face Rep. Ben Chandler (D) again in November. Last cycle, Chandler won reelection by defeating Barr by 647 votes.

The district got about two points better for Chandler through redistricting and the congressman released a poll from the end of March that showed him leading Barr 55 percent to 29 percent, but the member of the shrinking Blue Dog caucus may not be able to cruise to another term.

That same Mellman Group (D) showed President Obama winning the district 47 percent to 42 percent over Mitt Romney. That looks a bit optimistic considering John McCain won the 6th District with almost 54 percent in 2008 and over 40 percent of Democratic voters statewide on Tuesday voted against President Obama in his own primary, even though no one else was on the ballot.

This is the sole competitive election in the Bluegrass State this fall, and we continue to believe Chandler starts the general election with the advantage and rate the race as Democrat Favored, but this contest shouldn’t be considered over just yet.

In Arkansas, Democrats had originally hoped to put a scare into freshmen GOP Reps. Rick Crawford (1st District) and Tim Griffin (2nd District), but with the primaries complete, neither congressman is in danger.

The prospects of defeating Griffin faded earlier in the year when Democrats failed to get a top recruit, including former Lt. Gov Bill Halter. Democratic chances in the 1st District likely ended on Tuesday when the party’s preferred candidate, state Rep. Clark Hall, finished second (39 percent) behind Second Circuit Prosecuting Attorney Scott Ellington (49.5 percent). Hall spent $213,000 on the race through May 2 compared to just $43,000 for Ellington.

The two men will now move to a June 12 runoff and allow the incumbent more time to raise money. Crawford had almost $450,000 in the bank through May 2. Arkansas looks like it’s going to be brutal for President Obama in the fall and it’s tough to see Democrats winning here. We are moving the race from Republican Favored to Currently Safe Republican.

In the 4th District, Democratic prospects to hold onto retiring Rep. Mike Ross’s seat don’t look good either. In the GOP race, highly-touted Iraq War veteran/attorney Tom Cotton, who also had the backing of the Club for Growth, took 57 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff against 2010 nominee/former Miss Arkansas Beth Anne Rankin, who was endorsed by former Gov. Mike Huckabee. Bypassing what could have been a costly runoff only helps Cotton, who will be heavily favored in the fall, and still had $436,000 in the bank on May 2.

Democrats didn’t settle on a standard-bearer yet in what’s already an uphill climb. State Sen. Gene Jeffress finished first Tuesday with 40 percent, but still faces a runoff against attorney Q. Byrum Hurst, who received 36 percent and was the preferred candidate of most national Democrats, despite some potential personal financial issues. Hurst spent $69,000 on the race through May 2 compared to just $16,000 for Jeffress.

Republicans are likely to take over this Democratic seat with ease in November.

Finally, despite the anti-incumbent narrative you might see on cable news channels, through 14 states, 101 out of 103 House incumbents (98%) have been renominated in non-Member versus Member races this year.