House Democrats lose 4 seats but keep Arnold by 5 votes; Will have 55-45 majority

11/07/2012 12:51 AM

House Democrats appear to have maintained a comfortable advantage in the state House and largely survived a Republican tide, thanks in part to a couple of squeaker races in the Owensboro area.

Democratic Rep. John Arnold of Sturgis won the unofficial vote totals in the 7th state House District over Republican Tim Kline by an astoundingly slim five votes in Union County and parts of Henderson and Daviess counties.

That apparent narrow victory, coupled with another nail-biter Democratic Rep. Jim Glenn won in the next-door district of the 13th, kept Republicans at a net gain of four seats for the night.

The close losses in those two seats dampened the night for House Republicans, who had high hopes for coming within a seat or two of taking control of the state House.

Instead, they ended with a net gain of four seats to put them at 55-45. While that’s still a high water mark for Republicans since 1920, Republicans had set the expectations far higher. Republicans won four open seats from Democrats and defeated two Democratic incumbents, Rep. Linda Belcher of Shepherdsville who has served since 2009, and five-term Rep. Teddy Edmonds of Jackson.

Republicans picked up:

  • 2nd District: Republican Richard Heath defeated Democrat Kelly Whitaker by 10 points in the toughest-fought state House race in the state. The political parties and the candidates traded harsh ads at times in this race to replace Democrat Fred Nesler, who resigned the seat in June.

  • 4th District: After losing this race two years ago to incumbent Democratic Rep. Mike Cherry of Princeton, Lynn Bechler defeated Raymond Giannini by nearly 14 points.
  • 5th District: Republican Kenny Imes returns to the state House where he first served as a Democrat 40 years ago. Imes defeated Democrat Hal Kemp in the race to replace retiring Rep. Melvin Henley of Murray.
  • 49th District: Republican Russell Webber lost to Rep. Linda Belcher by 101 votes two years ago. This time Webber prevailed over the two-term Democrat by a more comfortable margin: 52.8 percent to 47.2 percent.
  • 61st District: A Republican will represent Grant County in the House for the first time ever. Brian Linder, a Grant County magistrate, won the seat formerly held by Democratic Rep. Royce Adams of Dry Ridge. Linder handily beat Democrat Wanda Crupper Hammons by more than 17 points.
  • 91st District: Perhaps Republicans’ most surprising win, Gary Wayne Herald unseated Rep. Teddy Edmonds by 134 votes in the district that covers Breathitt, Estill and Lee counties.

Democrats, meanwhile, picked up two seats from Republicans in districts that strongly favored Democrats in registration.

Democratic gains:

  • 3rd District: Gerald Watkins, a Democratic Paducah city commissioner, moved this seat back to the Democratic column after Republican Rep. Brent Housman had held it for the last four years. Watkins handily defeated radio station manager Jason Crockett, who sunk $90,000 of his own money into his bid. Watkins won by more than 18 points.
  • 38th District: Denny Butler, a Democrat and retired Louisville Metro Police Department sergeant, unseated Republican freshman Rep. Mike Nemes. Butler, the son of the late former state Rep. Denver Butler, carried the Democratic district easily, 59.2 percent to 40.8 percent.

With all the campaign cash spent by both sides on these House races, the storyline coming out of Election Night might be the survival of so many incumbents on both sides.

In all, only three sitting lawmakers were toppled: Nemes, Belcher and Edmonds.

Republicans successfully defended two of their vulnerable freshmen. Rep. Ryan Quarles of Georgetown turned away former Democratic Rep. Charlie Hoffman for the second straight election. And elsewhere in Central Kentucky, Rep. Donna Mayfield of Winchester won a second term by nearly 11 points over JoEllen Reed, a Democrat and Clark County Commissioner.

And Democrats protected longtime Lexington incumbents Rep. Ruth Ann Palumbo and Rep. Susan Westrom. And the Democrats’ Caucus Chairman, Rep. Bob Damron of Nicholasville, survived a surprisingly close race against Republican Matt Lockett in Jessamine County.

But, if the preliminary vote totals hold, the Democrats’ key victories came in western Kentucky.

Glenn, the Owensboro Democrat, won a fourth term by 251 votes — a landslide compared to John Arnold.

Glenn defeated independent candidate Bill Barron, a commercial real estate developer who pledged to caucus with Republicans. Barron might have been hurt by being an independent if voters who pulled the Republican straight ticket didn’t go down their ballot to cast a vote in this race.

And after winning the Democratic nomination this spring on the strength of support from his home county of Union, Arnold defeated Republican Kline, who is from Daviess County, by 1,165 votes there. Kline won the Daviess County precincts by 884 votes and the Henderson County precincts by 276.

About Ryan Alessi

Ryan Alessi joined cn|2 in May 2010 as senior managing editor and host of Pure Politics. He has covered politics for more than 10 years, including 7 years as a reporter for the Lexington Herald-Leader. Follow Ryan on Twitter @cn2Alessi. Ryan can be reached at 502-792-1135 or ryan.alessi@twcnews.com.

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