Rep. John Yarmuth (D)
Kentucky 3rd District
At the falls of the Ohio River, Americans more than 200 years ago founded one of their first inland metropolises, the river port and industrial city of Louisville. Established by George Rogers Clark in 1778, the city has always retained an air of the South. When Kentucky decided not to secede from the union in 1861, the decision was not unanimous, and the culture of tidewater Virginia is still evident in the Louisville lawn party. Mint juleps are served on the verandas of mansions, especially (but not only) during Kentucky Derby week in May; horse racing is a preoccupation throughout the year. Although the Ohio River is crossed by many bridges and the accent across the river in Indiana may sound the same to outsiders, Louisville partakes of the Cavalier culture that second sons of big landowners from England brought to Virginia in the 17th century, and their heirs brought over the Appalachians to the valleys of Kentucky in the 18th century.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
Louisville is Kentucky’s largest city, surpassing Lexington in 2003 after Louisville voters decided to consolidate the city and surrounding Jefferson County. Louisville has not been growing as rapidly as many other Southern and Midwestern cities. Its economy is in many ways pre-postindustrial: It produces cigarettes and whiskey, large appliances and Ford automobiles. However, it is also the headquarters of Humana health services and of Yum! Brands, which owns KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and Long John Silver’s. Its downtown hosts a new medical services center, the Muhammad Ali Center and the Owsley Brown Frazier Historical Arms Museum. The Louisville Bats’s Slugger Field, which opened in 2000 on the riverfront, has attracted $100 million in development nearby. But the pace of growth in Louisville-Jefferson County is still slower than in the counties that ring it and in the counties across the river in Indiana. This regional growth has fueled plans to build two massive bridges over the Ohio River, at an estimated cost of $4 billion. Louisville has not yet attracted large numbers of immigrants, but has an interesting variety: Vietnamese, Bosnians, Cubans, Chinese, Indians, Koreans and Mexicans.
The 3rd Congressional District of Kentucky includes all but a dozen or so precincts of Louisville-Jefferson County. There is a large black population in the West End of Louisville and just south of the old city limits, and a lower-income white population along the strip highway that leads to Fort Knox. The suburbs to the east tend to be affluent. Small, elite neighborhoods—Mockingbird Valley, Glenview, Ten Broeck—are nestled in the hills above the Ohio River. Louisville has long been an odd duck in Kentucky politics. If its elite were Virginia Cavaliers, many of its burghers were Germans and Pennsylvanians who made this river town a Republican and anti-slavery island in a secessionist and pro-slavery sea. That tradition helps explain why Republican Mitch McConnell was able to get elected as Jefferson County judge-executive in 1977 and 1981, when the state was electing Democrats to most other offices. Since the 1990s, Louisville, like so many metro areas, has trended toward the Democrats, even as the rest of Kentucky trended Republican. The 3rd District voted by narrow margins for Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004, while the state’s other five districts all voted twice for George W. Bush. In 2008, the district voted for Barack Obama even as the rest of Kentucky went solidly for John McCain.
Rep. John Yarmuth (D)
Elected: 2006, 2nd term.
Born: Nov. 4, 1947, Louisville .
Education: Yale U., B.A. 1969, attended Georgetown, 1972-74, attended U. of Louisville, 1975.
Family: Married (Catherine); 1 child.
Professional Career: Stockbroker, 1969-71; Sr. aide, U.S. Sen. Marlow Cook, 1971-74; Publisher, Louisville Today magazine, 1976-82; Asst. vp of university relations, U. of Louisville, 1983-86; VP, Caretenders, 1986-90; Owner, columnist & executive editor, Louisville Eccentric Observer, 1990-2002; Co-host, Yarmuth & Ziegler, 2003; Commentator, Hot Button, 2004-05.
The congressman from the 3rd District is John Yarmuth, who won the district in 2006 by defeating five-term Republican Anne Northup. Yarmuth never held elected office before, but had spent four years as a Senate aide and more than two decades as a newspaper editor, publisher, and columnist. He comes from a wealthy family. His father, Stanley Yarmuth, founded National Industries, a conglomerate that started as a used car business; his maternal grandfather, Samuel Klein, ran the Bank of Louisville. John Yarmuth grew up in Louisville and went to Atherton High School, where he was elected student government president. After graduating from Yale University in 1969, he worked briefly as a stockbroker and then as an aide to Republican Sen. Marlow Cook. Yarmuth attended two years of law school but didn’t finish his degree. In 1976, he founded Louisville Today magazine, and served as publisher until 1982. He ran unsuccessfully for Louisville alderman in 1975, and for county commissioner in 1981. He worked in public relations from 1983 to 1990 for the University of Louisville and for a health care company. Unhappy with the policies of President Reagan and the Republican Party, Yarmuth switched his party affiliation to Democrat in 1985. (He says he first registered as a Republican as a favor to his father, who was a fundraiser for President Nixon.) In 1990, Yarmuth founded the Louisville Eccentric Observer, a free newsweekly popularly known as LEO, and for the next 15 years, penned a column called “Hot Coals” that promoted his mostly liberal views. He sold the publication in 2003, but continued his column and also did political commentary on television.
|John Yarmuth (D)||203,843||(59%)||($2,138,457)|
|Anne Northup (R)||139,527||(41%)||($1,708,081)|
|John Yarmuth (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (51%)
In 2006, Northup was again vulnerable in this Democratic-leaning district, which she’d fought hard to keep by bringing in millions of dollars in federal funds from her perch on the House Appropriations Committee. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee touted attorney Andrew Horne, an Iraq War veteran and first-time candidate. But Yarmuth raised more money and proved a more formidable candidate than Horne, winning the four-way primary 54%-32%. He called for an immediate pullout of troops from Iraq and referred to Northup as a “rubber stamp” for President Bush. Northup campaigned on the Republican tax cuts and her work for the district. Yarmuth ran on his support for universal health coverage, a minimum-wage increase and revamping the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind education law.
The mother of six children, Northup suffered a wrenching personal tragedy during the campaign when her son died of an undiagnosed heart condition. She suspended her campaign for six weeks before returning to campaigning at the end of the summer. Then she unleashed a radio, television and Internet offensive that blasted Yarmuth for his liberal writings. She charged that Yarmuth supported doubling payroll taxes, removing the phrase “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance and legalizing marijuana. Northup raised nearly $3.4 million to Yarmuth’s $2.3 million, which included $700,000 of his own money. Northup, who carried the district while Bush lost it in 2000 and 2004, could not overcome a national tide against Republicans that year, an environment made worse locally by a patronage scandal surrounding Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher. Yarmuth won 51%-48%.
In the House, Yarmuth is generally a moderate Democrat, though he is more liberal on foreign policy issues and more conservative on economic issues. When he was on the Education and Labor Committee in 2007 and 2008, he pressed for changes in the No Child Left Behind Act that would let states decide whether schools are meeting the law’s requirements, which make federal funds contingent on students achieving proficiency on standardized tests. He also sponsored provisions in a higher-education bill to pay for more special education training for teachers and to forgive loans to teachers. He won House approval of his amendment to require Iraq to defray the costs of American troops stationed there. With his journalism background, Yarmuth co-sponsored a federal shield bill for news reporters and joined a “messaging” group that advises Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders on media strategy. As he promised, he donated his congressional salary to Louisville-area community groups.
Northup came back for a rematch in 2008, after losing a primary challenge to Fletcher for governor. She criticized Yarmuth for supporting 2008’s $700 billion bailout for the financial markets, and also attacked his “present” vote on a resolution honoring Christmas, asserting he’d lost touch with his constituents. (Yarmuth is Jewish.) Even though Northup raised more money than Yarmuth, he had a much easier time than in 2006, winning 59%-41%.
A scratch golfer who once played as many as 100 rounds of golf a year, Yarmuth says that the demands of Congress prompted him to scale back his plans to spend a month every year at a home he recently built near a golf course in Ireland.