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By JOHN FRIEDLEIN
Voters who supported Ron Lewis — the former pastor from Cecilia who has represented Kentucky’s 2nd Congressional District for the past 14 years with a conservative mindset — have a like-minded option in November’s general election.
“I think we’re pretty similar,” said State Sen. Brett Guthrie, R-Bowling Green. The Republican in 1994 campaigned for Lewis in the U.S. House race when the congressman first took office after a Democrat had represented the district for 41 years.
GOP candidates though, probably face a tougher time this fall than during the Republican Revolution 14 years ago, partly because of the poor economy and the sagging popularity of President Bush.
But the presidential race — and high-ranking Mitch McConnell’s defense of his Senate seat — will benefit Guthrie by getting Republican voters to the polls, he said during a recent visit to The News-Enterprise. He thinks both Republicans, McConnell and presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, will do well in the 2nd District.
Guthrie faces state Sen. David Boswell, D-Owensboro.
The race will draw national attention, Guthrie said.
“Any open seat is going to be one that people are interested in,” he said. Lewis withdrew from the race earlier this year.
With Lewis opting out, Hardin County will not have someone local representing it in the House.
Guthrie, however, said this area — one of the district’s three population centers — is important. “A lot is happening here.”
Local events he has attended include a Radcliff pancake breakfast and receptions at private homes. He also met with a committee dealing with the Fort Knox realignment.
The influx of workers at the Army post comes from a federal decision. So issues such as school building construction, which typically is a state matter, should be addressed by officials at the national level, Guthrie said.
He wants to be “completely engaged” in the realignment process — “to make sure it goes as smoothly as possible and that we’re able to accommodate rapid growth,” he said. “So many people are coming at one time.”
Most of the thousands of new employees will be showing up during the next two years.
Guthrie is the budget chairman of the Senate transportation committee, which funded a $50 million bond issue for roads and another $50 million for infrastructure. He worked closely with Sen. Elizabeth Tori, R-Elizabethtown, who sponsored the proposal.
Guthrie has an armed forces background. A graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, he served as a field artillery officer in the 101st Airborne. A U.S. House Armed Services committee seat would interest him, he said.
The 44-year-old is married, has four children and is vice president of Trace Die Cast, an auto parts maker with more than 500 employees founded by his father.
He said he understands the global economy.
“I understand what it takes to compete and keep jobs in Kentucky. It’s not a theory with me,” he said.
For any candidate running for Congress this year: “I think the economy is the challenge,” he said.
He also said he recognizes the importance of the blue collar vote.
Guthrie actually got into politics in part because he was interested in skills training — for hard workers trying to get into the middle class, he said. “If we lose manufacturing, we’re going to lose that opportunity.”
As for other issues, he is a “big fan of alternative energy.” But for immediate relief, “we have to develop our own oil resources.” He mentioned developing untapped fields and expanding refinery capacity.
Also, he doesn’t favor setting a specific date to pull out of Iraq.
“I think we need to let the generals on the ground operate the war,” he said.
John Friedlein can be reached at (270) 505-1746.