LOUISVILLE, Kentucky — As a bitterly contested Republican primary for governor wound to a close, Kentucky voters headed to the polls Tuesday to sort through the contenders in both parties — and weigh in on some of the allegations that have surfaced on the Republican side.
Despite near-perfect spring weather all over the state, turnout appeared to be modest through the early part of the day. But after weeks of watching aggressive attack ads, the voters who did turn out were glad to finally have their say.
Four hours after the polls opened, just 103 people had cast their ballots there at Bloom Elementary School in Louisville, typically a busy polling place.
"This is a heavily Democratic precinct in a heavily Democratic city, so there's not a lot of commitment to voting today," said Kelly McKnight, the election officer there.
The campaign among Democrats has been uneventful: Attorney General Jack Conway is considered a shoo-in for the gubernatorial nomination.
But the Republican race for governor has been marred by allegations that Comer abused his college girlfriend more than two decades ago. He denied the accusations and claimed Heiner's camp spread the rumors for political advantage. Bevin tried to capitalize on the fight: he aired a commercial that portrayed his two rivals as children in a food fight. Only retired Supreme Court Justice Will T. Scott, considered the least likely to win, has stayed out of the fray.
"It's been disgusting," said Ann Cobb, a Republican so put-off by the negative campaigning she still hadn't decided which candidate to vote for when she arrived at the school to vote Tuesday morning.
At Jeffersontown High School, Doug McPherson, a Republican, cast his ballot for Scott.
"I know he's not going to win, but I wasn't going to vote for those other three idiots," McPherson said. "I was so glad today came so we can stop watching the stupid ads on TV."
McPherson describes politicians as a "bunch of little kids playing on a playground" and said he's tired of partisan politics and government gridlock. He voted for Alison Lundergan Grimes, a Democrat, when she tried unsuccessfully to unseat Sen. Mitch McConnell last year.
"I'm tired of career politicians, nothing ever changes," he said. "Will Scott is the only one that made any sense to me."
But a number of other Republicans in Jeffersontown said they voted for the candidate they thought would be most likely to be able to beat Conway in the general election.
George Behrend voted for Louisville businessman Hal Heiner.
"I guess you could say he's the best of a bad lot," Behrend said. "He's the most straightforward."
He was disappointed, he said, that the campaign "decayed to mudslinging."
Chris Decker, a 46-year-old teacher and high school athletic director in Bowling Green who voted at Briarwood Elementary School in Sen. Rand Paul's hometown, said he didn't see much to distinguish among the GOP candidates on the issues. He cast his ballot for Comer based on his experience as state agriculture commissioner.
"They're all just about the same as far as policies," he said. "For me it just came back to him being already in office. I think he did a good job cleaning up the agriculture department after what happened with Richie Farmer," referring to the scandal that brought down Comer's predecessor.
Karen Dowell, a 50-year-old stay at home mom in Lawrenceburg, said she had a hard time deciding who to vote for in the Republican primary for governor because all of the candidates agreed on the issue important to her: abortion.
"One didn't stand out over the other for me," she said.
In the end, she went with James Comer. She had heard about the allegations that he abused his college girlfriend, but she said she did not research it that much.
"(Comer) was more familiar to me," she said.
As for the general election, Dowell said her mind is not made up.
"I'll probably watch that election closer," she said.
Steve Ramsey, a 64-year-old state worker in Lawrenceburg, said he voted for Hal Heiner because he liked his message of promising to bring more jobs to Kentucky.
"We've lost a lot of businesses because they've gone elsewhere because of our tax rates and all of that," he said.
He said Heiner has a good chance of winning in November, but it depends on if the Republican party can unite behind him following a contentious primary. If Heiner doesn't win, Ramsey said he would re-evaluate his vote.
"I have to see how (likely Democratic nominee Jack) Conway stacks up and see how that goes," he said. "I'm not a true Republican when it comes to that. I want the best man in there."
When it was time to vote in the Republican primary for governor, 76-year-old Lawrence Dalzell voted for Will T. Scott with no hesitation.
"He's old like me. He can't be all bad," he said.
Scott, 67, is by far the oldest man in the race. Dalzell and his wife said they also voted for Scott because he stayed out of the negative campaign that consumed the other three candidates.
"He was a more positive person," he said.