Rep. Larry Clark

By Jacob Conway, Website Mentors

My late grandfather, a long time Louisville business leader, once told me “to be careful, for the toes you step on one day might be connected to the ass you need to kiss the next.”

Not exactly the most original saying, but it is being put into action during this fall’s election.

The Courier-Journal’s Joe Gerth reported Monday that Preston Bates, a former member of the Jefferson County Democratic Executive Committee turned Libertarian/Republican campaign consultant and super PAC director, is targeting long time State Representative Larry Clark (D-46).

Clark is Bates’ former boss. Now, Bates is the potential beneficiary of nearly limitless funding for third-party attacks, compliments of the Liberty For All super PAC.

Clark, long-time Democratic leader and speaker pro tem of the State House, is in his fourteenth term in the Commonwealth’s lower chamber.

He’s being challenged for the second time by Teamster Brian Simpson, a conservative Republican who seems to court the support of the Tea Party wing of his party.

In 2008, Bates interned for Rep. Clark’s office and was terminated.

According to Gerth’s column, there is a bit of a difference of opinion as to why Bates was relieved of his duties. Clark claimed in a termination letter that it was due to insubordination and Bates’ tardiness. Bates contends it was a personality conflict with Clark combined with Bates’ refusal to do political work while on the clock.

Local and state Republicans have longed for decades to unseat the partisan Clark but have never been able to get enough of the working class, “Reagan Democrats” who make up the south Louisville district to vote against Clark, even though they have voted for Republicans for other offices.

Past challengers had a hard time raising enough money and garnering support from outside Republican Party loyalists. In 2010, Simpson received support from several labor groups including the Jefferson County Teachers’ Association.

Clark is known to carry a grudge and organizations that need his support on key bills might be reluctant to support his opponent again.

That gives the Liberty For All super PAC an advantage.

The PAC is endowed by a wealthy college student from Texas whom Bates met through his work for Ron Paul’s quixotic presidential bid. This distance from Clark’s power base would allow the group to go as negative as they want without fear of needing his support for a bill during the next legislative session should Clark get re-elected.

The group gained notoriety last month for buying half a million dollars worth of airtime on in support of the 4th Congressional District’s GOP nominee, Thomas Massie. Massie won his party’s nomination in a crowded field of candidates.

The PAC’s support gave Massie an edge and is widely credited for his victory.

Personally, I don’t know if targeting the Speaker Pro-Tem is a smart investment of the PAC’s resources. Yes, the support of a Libertarian-leaning super PAC was helpful in an open primary where the candidates were relatively unknown outside of their respective hometowns.

But I seriously doubt it will work against a candidate who voters have re-elected for 28 years.

Clark is well known inside and outside of his district and has the support of the party. Being a long-term incumbent with a record of accomplishment and being a member of House leadership also gives him a fundraising advantage when it comes to support from the more traditional special interest groups such as labor unions.

Clark also has the advantage of being, as one of my former political employers put it, “someone you know and someone you trust”.

When it comes to elections for offices such as the state legislature, having Clark’s resume gives him the advantage.

Only time will tell if Simpson’s support from a Super PAC run by someone who grew up in Prospect  – funded by a 22 year old Texan who inherited his fortune – will help him in this blue collar, traditional Democratic district.

About Jacob Conway: Jacob Conway has been actively involved in local and state politics since he was 16 years old. Conway has managed or consulted on a host of local, state and judicial campaigns since the 2002 election cycle. He currently is a partner at Website Mentors, a locally owned and operated web design and digital marketing firm and a member of the Louisville- Jefferson County Democratic Party’s Executive Committee.

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