By BRUCE SCHREINER Associated Press Writer LOUISVILLE — Wealthy businessman Bruce Lunsford pulled away to win a crowded Democratic Senate primary Tuesday, setting up a fall challenge against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a four-term incumbent with a big campaign bankroll.
Lunsford capitalized on his name recognition with voters from two failed runs for governor to outdistance fellow Louisville entrepreneur Greg Fischer, while several little-known candidates trailed far behind. With 95 percent of precincts reporting, Lunsford had captured 51 percent of the vote, compared with 33 percent for Fischer. McConnell easily defeated little-known truck driver Daniel Essek on the GOP side, winning 86 percent of the vote with 97 percent of precincts reporting in unofficial returns. Elsewhere, David Boswell's win in the 2nd Congressional District pits the long-time state senator and former agriculture commissioner against Republican state Sen. Brett Guthrie in the general election. The open congressional seat in parts of central and western Kentucky could get attention from both national parties in the fall. The conservative district was a national bellwether 14 years ago when Republican Ron Lewis pulled an upset in a special election months before the GOP took over the House. Lewis decided not to seek another term this year. The district was a national bellwether in 1994 when Republican Ron Lewis pulled an upset in a special election months before the GOP took over the House. Lewis decided not to seek another term this year. In a Louisville-area district, former Rep. Anne Northup prevailed in a multi-candidate GOP primary to win a rematch against Democratic Rep. John Yarmuth, who ousted the five-term congresswoman two years ago. Northup said that 2006 was a ``tough year'' but now ``a lot of things are different'' ``I ran in good years, I ran in tough years,'' she said. ``Until the tidal wave came in, we were able to prevail. I think what that meant, people agreed with the ... solutions that we offered.'' The Senate matchup between McConnell and Lunsford could turn into a bruising, free-spending fight. McConnell, the top Senate Republican, is a prolific fund-raiser who raised more than $12 million in campaign cash through March, while Lunsford spent about $14 million of his own money in his gubernatorial campaigns in 2003 and 2007. He failed to advance beyond the primary either time. Lunsford touted his humble roots growing up on a Kentucky tobacco farm and working on a road crew to help put him through college. His early boyhood included a few years in which he did without indoor plumbing. But the millionaire also has a jet-set lifestyle as a partner in a movie production company and an owner of thoroughbred race horses. Lunsford spent much of the primary campaign focusing on McConnell, linking the lawmaker to President Bush. Lunsford has said the Iraq war was ill-conceived and accused McConnell of giving Bush a series of ``blank checks'' for the war. But Lunsford steered clear of strict timetables for troop withdrawals. Domestically, Lunsford opposes changing Social Security to allow private accounts, supports letting Bush's tax cuts expire for top wage earners and talks broadly about universal access to health insurance. Fischer, a political newcomer, attacked Lunsford's party loyalty, noting that Lunsford was a past political contributor to McConnell and other Republicans. Lunsford said he contributed to GOP candidates to protect his business interests, and said he had given considerably more to Democrats in the past. Fischer also ran a TV ad reminding Democrats that Lunsford crossed party lines to support Republican Ernie Fletcher, who was elected Kentucky governor in 2003. Lunsford has said his support for Fletcher was a mistake. Fischer also ran TV ads focusing on Lunsford's management of Vencor Inc., a nursing home and hospital company that soared to Fortune 500 status before plunging into Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 1999. Lunsford blamed the bankruptcy filing on government cuts in medical reimbursement rates. The company reorganized and emerged from bankruptcy in 2001 and was renamed Kindred Healthcare. Lunsford contributed more than $1 million of his money earlier in the spring to help finance his Senate campaign, while Fischer bolstered his campaign bank account with $510,000 of his money. Other Democrats in the Senate race were Michael Cassaro, a Louisville-area pain doctor; David Wylie of Harrodsburg; David L. Williams of Glasgow; James Rice of Campbellsville; and Kenneth Stepp of Manchester. In other races, Rep. Geoff Davis defeated two Republican challengers in the 4th District, which covers large portions of northern Kentucky. Democrat Michael Kelley will challenge Davis in the fall. Tony McCurdy defeated Jon Larson for the GOP nomination in central Kentucky's 6th District. McCurdy will face Democratic incumbent Ben Chandler, who had no primary opponent. Rep. Ed Whitfield, who represents the 1st District covering much of western Kentucky, was unopposed in the primary and will face Democratic challenger Heather A. Ryan in the fall. Republican Rep. Harold "Hal'' Rogers has no opponent this year in the 5th District.