Politics

Former Kentucky U.S. Sen. Walter “Dee” Huddleston has died at the age of 92.

Huddleston was a Democrat who won two statewide campaigns to represent Kentucky in the Senate before he was unseated in a third contest by Mitch McConnell in 1984.

He never ran for elected office again, but went on to work as a lobbyist in Washington, and later as chairman of a bank in Elizabethtown.

A longtime resident of Elizabethtown, Huddleston also served as a tank gunner during World War II, was a member of the Kentucky State Senate from 1965 until 1972 and worked as an owner and manager of radio stations across the state.

In the 1984 election, McConnell famously deployed a commercial featuring a gaggle of hound dogs that “searched” for Huddleston, claiming that the senator was “missing big votes on Social Security, the budget, defense, even agriculture.”

(Though Huddleston did make paid speeches, he had a 94 percent voting record according to the 2014 McConnell biography, The Cynic.)

That year, President Ronald Reagan won reelection in a landslide, sweeping Kentucky by more than 280,000 votes.

Riding Reagan’s coattails, McConnell ended up defeating Huddleston in deeply-Democratic Kentucky by a little more than 5,200 votes.

In a statement, McConnell mourned the death of his former opponent, saying that Huddleston “proudly served Kentucky and our nation.”

“When we each had the opportunity to share our visions for Kentucky’s future in 1984, I experienced Dee’s tenacity, competitiveness, and skill firsthand,” McConnell wrote.

“He was a tough competitor, and I always respected him for his service to our home state. Elaine and I were saddened to hear of Dee’s passing, and I hope that the memories of his life will bring comfort to those who knew him in this time of grief.”

Huddleston was born in Burkesville in Cumberland County. After serving in World War II, he returned to Kentucky and got a degree in Radio Arts from the University of Kentucky on the GI bill.

Rep. John Yarmuth, a Democrat from Kentucky’s 3rd Congressional district, called Huddleston a “kindhearted and thoughtful man.”

“Though he was a spirited politician, he never quite enjoyed the combative side of politics. His interests remained in serving the people of Kentucky to the very best of his ability,” Yarmuth wrote in a statement. “Dee had an unmatched personality and a heart of gold. His family will be in my thoughts and prayers.”

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.