Race for Senate 31 drawing big attention

All six of Kentucky’s living Democratic governors have thrown their support behind the Democratic nominee in the special election for the Senate District 31 seat, and the leader of the U.S. Senate is backing the GOP nominee. Signals an expensive race.

Former Govs. Steve Beshear, John Y. Brown Jr., Martha Layne Collins, Brereton Jones, Paul Patton and Julian Carroll will host a Feb. 26 meet-and-greet for Pikeville Democrat Darrell Pugh, who is running to succeed now-Judge-Executive Ray Jones, also a Pikeville Dem.

On the other side, Republican Phillip Wheeler, R-Pikeville, has drawn support and money ($2,000) from U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s leadership PAC, the Bluegrass Committee, and another $2,000 from GOPAC, a national organization that backs local and state Republican candidates. The Kentucky Senate caucus gave Wheeler $20,000, putting the nominee’s fundraising total at a bit more than $70,000 on his 30-day pre-election report filed with the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance.

Pugh reported just under $27,000 on his report, with much of that seeming to come from individuals.

Pugh is the owner of Castle’s Jewelry and Gifts, a Pikeville business started in 1937 by his grandparents. He also is a licensed real estate broker and helped develop apartment complexes in Paintsville and Booneville. Pugh served on the boards of directors for the local YMCA and Cal Ripken Baseball, and he coached Cal Ripken Baseball for 15 years.

A lifelong Eastern Kentuckian, Pugh describes himself as pro-gun and pro-coal, which puts him in sync with national GOP messages and with the voters in the area, who overwhelmingly support President Trump.

Wheeler’s bio on his campaign webpage is quite sparse, but he notes he is an “attorney for injured workers and coal miners with black lung. Attended public schools and the University of Kentucky College of Law.” That’s it for the bio. According to the Kentucky Bar Association, Wheeler works at personal injury firm Kirk Law Firm in Pikeville.

The district is a Democratic bastion. Voter registration strongly favors the Democrats – 61.2 percent to 33.5 percent as of mid-January, and the last Republican to hold this seat was Foster Spence, who served during the 1964 and 1966 sessions.

The special election for the Senate District 31 seat is March 5.

The 31st Senate District is Elliott, Lawrence, Martin, Morgan and Pike counties.

Laura Cullen Glasscock, publisher and editor