Kentucky trends: Republican wave hits (except in two city halls)

11/03/2010 02:19 AM

It was a good night to be a Republican around the country and in Kentucky.

Republicans kept their U.S. Senate seat in Kentucky with Rand Paul winning by double-digits — the largest win in a U.S. Senate race since Sen. Mitch McConnell’s 2002 drubbing of Democrat Lois Combs Weinberg.

They tightened their grasp on the state Senate with a net gain of two seats after picking up three Democratic-held seats while losing one GOP senator. State Senate President David Williams will return to Frankfort with a caucus of 23, including independent Sen. Bob Leeper of Paducah, compared to 15 Democrats.

The GOP made huge strides in the state House. They nearly sliced in half the Democrats’ control on that chamber with a net gain of seven seats. Democrats now have 58 votes compared to 42 Republicans.

And Republican U.S. House candidate Andy Barr appears to have come within an eyelash of knocking off Democratic Congressman Ben Chandler in Central Kentucky’s 6th congressional district.

They made strides elsewhere.

Democratic judge executives in several counties lost re-election:

  • Gary Riggs of Bracken County (first elected in 2006)  lost by nearly 20 points to Republican Earl Bush
  • Kenny French of Gallatin County (also elected in 2006) lost by more than 11 points to Republican Ken McFarland
  • And in Fayette County, longtime Judge-Executive Sandra Varellas lost to Jon Larson, a Republican who previously ran failed campaigns for attorney general in 2007 and Congress against Chandler in 2008. Larson won by 3 points. (Fayette County is a merged government so the judge-executive holds little power, which is what Larson ran on — working to have the office eliminated through a constitutional amendment).

Here’s Larson’s victory speech in which he says getting rid of the office is aimed at saving tax money:

Of course, not every part of Kentucky shifted to the right. In fact, the city halls of the two biggest metropolises were bright spots for Democrats.

Democrat Greg Fischer squeaked out a win in the Louisville mayor’s race by less than 2.5 points, turning away a strong challenge from Councilman Hal Heiner. Heiner ran a strong campaign giving Republicans their best hope in decades to take control of city hall.

And in Lexington, while the judge-executive position has little power, the mayor does. Vice Mayor Jim Gray unseated Mayor Jim Newberry after a particularly harsh couple of weeks of ads. Gray solidly defeated Newberry by more than 6 points.

And that was after Newberry sought to court Republican votes in the waning days of the campaign. Here’s what he told cn|2 Politics on Saturday at a Republican rally in Lexington featuring Paul and Barr:

Gray is considered more liberal than Newberry. And that’s just part of a potential shift in Lexington government. Gray will be joined by Vice Mayor-elect Linda Gorton, who has served the last four years as an at-large council member.  And newly-elected at-large councilmember Steve Kay also has support from Lexington’s liberal base. Chuck Ellinger Jr., a Republican, is the other at-large councilmember.


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