Clark suggested that Dedman must have had a sudden change of his political stripes, because he was in Frankfort on Oct. 20 of last year talking to Democrats to explore the possibility of running as a member of that party. It was only after Republican Ernie Fletcher won the governor's race last November that Dedman converted from his life-long political affiliation, Clark said.
"You'll have to ask Milward to explain that," said Clark, 51, who served as director of consumer protection for the Department of Insurance until she resigned in December to run for the House.
Dedman said that his visit to Frankfort last October was intended to familiarize him with "the process," not gauge support for his candidacy among Democrats. Fletcher's victory -- Dedman supported Democrat Ben Chandler in the race -- didn't have anything to do, personally, with his switch, he said, but added, "It made me realize a Republican could be elected."
Now he is trying to beat Clark in a district that contains about 70 percent registered Democrats and includes a large contingent of state workers and retirees, especially in Anderson County and two precincts in Spencer County that are in the district. The uproar over Fletcher's healthcare plan for state employees that was overhauled in a special session of the legislature hasn't helped Dedman's cause, either, he said.
"It hurts a lot more here because the 55th District has a lot of state employees and teachers," Dedman said.
Party affiliation aside, there are other differences that separate the two candidates. Clark touts her experience in Frankfort as her main asset, while Dedman positions himself as an outsider.
Clark, a former teacher, grew up on a dairy farm in the northern Mercer County community of Ebenezer and currently lives in McAfee with her husband, Jon, an engineer with the state Department of Transportation. The couple have two grown daughters.
This is Clark's second attempt to win public office. She narrowly lost to incumbent Republican Tom Buford in a 1994 campaign for state senator.
"I have a good, strong background in the two most important issues being discussed - education and health insurance," she said.
Clark said, if elected, she will work toward establishing a program where the state insures its employees and retirees.
"I think Kentucky is going to have to go to a self-insurance program. We have a sufficient number of enrollees to do that and it's more cost-effective in the long-run," she said. "A lot of other states have gone that way. I'm very familiar with how other states are handling this issue.
"Health insurance is never going to be cheap, but I think there are some avenues that need to be explored to address some of the cost issues."
Clark said she favors reimportation of drugs from Canada as long as local pharmacies also have access, forming a regional buying group with other states to get savings on Medicaid drugs, and curtailing advertising by pharmaceutical companies that create "a false demand for high-cost, name brand drugs."
Dedman, who also manages tobacco warehouses in Mercer County, grew up in Harrodsburg, where his last name is well known. His father, William Dedman, owned Gateway supermarket, and his cousins operate Beaumont Inn. His wife, Kathy, is a stay-at-home mom. The couple have two children attending Mercer County's King Middle School.
Like Clark, Dedman said health insurance will be a key issue he will have to deal with if elected. He said he favors removing state regulations that have forced insurance companies out of Kentucky.
"What they're doing now is just a Band-Aid until we can make improvements to get more competitive," he said. "We have to make this state more attractive to insurance companies so we have more competition and drive costs down.