Kentucky Republicans say they have years of momentum and that a big voter turnout in November for a presidential election will help them seize majority control of the Kentucky House of Representatives for the first time since 1921.
“A fantastic chance,” said Tres Watson, spokesman for the Republican Party of Kentucky. “We have good candidates. And the demographics of a presidential year combined with how Kentuckians are voting more and more Republican at the federal level make us highly competitive.”
But Democrats survived an GOP aggressive challenge in 2014 and say that momentum swung back their way in March when Democrats won three of four special elections for vacant House seats.
“I feel very strong about our prospects to hold onto our majority,” said Rep. Sannie Overly, of Paris, who chairs the House Democratic Caucus and the Kentucky Democratic Party. “We’ve heard this from those folks (Republicans) before. And we have consistently out-recruited, out-worked and out-performed their candidates. This year is no different.”
Democrats now hold a 53-47 majority in the House, which remains the only legislative chamber in any southern state in Democratic control.
The stakes are extremely high. Republicans are sure to retain a big majority in the Kentucky Senate in November, and flipping the House would allow the GOP and Republican Gov. Matt Bevin to pass much more of their conservative agenda.
Many Republicans believe the presidential race pitting Republican Donald Trump against Democrat Hillary Clinton will help many of their candidates – particularly in Eastern Kentucky, where Clinton’s March comment about putting miners out of work resonates loudly despite her efforts to say the comment was a mistake and taken out of context.
But Overly said, “The Trump campaign appears to be imploding on a daily basis. Who knows what it will look like in November? He may well be a drag on their ticket.”
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said Democrats plan to run against Bevin on the funding cuts he initiated to universities and his veto of a budget provision that would have expanded preschool eligibility.
“I don’t believe the governor’s message is popular," he said. "We ran against it in the special elections, we’ll run against it again this fall.”
If Trump isn't a drag on the ticket for KY state races, Bevin may very well be. His education cuts are becoming more and more of an issue here along with his Medicaid cuts and across-the-board cuts to many state cabinets. I don't have any illusions that Clinton will win here, but it doesn't mean that people won't keep sticking with Greg Stumbo and the Democrats this fall, either.