Lt. Gov. Martha Layne Collins, hoping to become Kentucky's first woman governor, and Louisville Mayor Harvey Sloane both predicted victory this morning in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, a race too close to call.
With all but 21 precincts reporting -- and those located in Jefferson County, which includes Louisville -- Collins had 213,905 votes to Sloane's 210,653. Grady Stumbo, making his first bid for political office, had 191,146.
Because of technical problems, the count was stopped early today and was not scheduled to resume overnight.
The winner faces Republican state Sen. Jim Bunning, a former major league baseball pitching star who easily won the primary but faces a tough battle in the general election. Democratic voters outnumber Republicans by about 2 to 1.
Democractic Gov. John Y. Brown Jr., who endorsed Stumbo May 16, is limited by law to one four-year term.
Collins and Sloane predicted that the uncounted precincts would provide their victory margin.
"It's been a long night," Collins told about 7,000 joyous supporters. "Because of your hard work and dedication, tonight we've made history for Kentucky."
Sloane said that the race was too close too call but that he would win. "I believe we won it," he said, "but neither Martha Layne nor I can say that for sure."
About midnight, Stumbo told his supporters to go home.He noted a glimmer of hope but that it was dimming quickly.
In the GOP race, with 89 counties reporting, Bunning had 56,480 votes, while four other candidates had fewer than 2,500 each.
At victory celebration in Lexington, Bunning, 51, told supporters, "I knew I was going to win the primary.Now I'm excited aboute the general election."
Collins, 46, is seeking to become the party's first woman gubernatorial nominee, while Sloane, 47, is making his second consecutive bid for the nomination. Stumbo, 38, is a rural physician brought into the statehouse by Brown.
The Democratic candidates varied little on major issues, just on details. Collins and Sloane had run neck-and-neck through most of the race; Stumbo, despite endorsement by Brown, lacked campaign money and got a slow start.
After the endorsement, Stumbo claimed that he was pulling even, and Brown stumped with him during the final eight days.
Bunning had been the clear front-runner since entering the race in late March and immediately gaining support from most of the state GOP hierarchy and the Republican National Committee.
For years, campaigns for governor in Kentucky involved glad-handing at the Kentucky Derby in May and speaking at county courthouses. That changed in 1979, when Brown campaigned with his wife, former Miss America Phyllis George, and spent heavily on advertising.