Special election hangover for House Democrats brings consternation over shrinking majority

12/11/2013 06:46 PM

State House Republicans emerged Wednesday with another member added to their ranks and an added swagger as they continue their slow creep to within sniffing distance of tying up or taking control of the state House.

Meanwhile, Democrats rushed to downplay the significance of their candidate’s narrow loss in Tuesday night’s special election in the 7th state House District in Union County and Henderson and Daviess counties.

Republican Suzanne Miles of Owensboro finished 112 votes ahead of Democratic candidate Kim Humphrey of Morganfield, according to unofficial results. Democrats have asked for a recanvass to double-check the vote totals.

Party switching parlor game

With Miles’ win giving Republicans 46 members and cutting the Demcoratic majority to its modern-day low-water mark of 54, that has given rise to the Frankfort parlor game of speculating whether any Democratic incumbents might switch parties now the way Senators Dan Seum and Bob Leeper did in 1999 to give Republicans control of the state Senate.

Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo said no:

It’s still a long shot for four or more Democrats to switch parties before the 2014 elections. House Democrats have tried to close ranks and guard against defections by doling out committee chairmanships to Democrats in conservative or swing districts.

And with 2014 being a budget session, switching parties and risking the ire of their former Democratic colleagues could result in fewer projects and programs for their districts.

Republican Party Chairman Steve Robertson declined to comment on the prospect of recruiting any incumbent Democrats to switch.

But he said Miles’ win has “re-energized our folks who are considering running” in other House districts next year.

So that shifts both parties’ focus back to candidate recruitment for the 2014 election with the filing deadline looming on Jan. 28 at 4 p.m.

And Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear, who campaigned for Humphrey in the 7th District, said he believes that district will be competitive again next fall, potentially in a rematch. After all, Miles’ predecessor, Democrat John Arnold, only won re-election in 2012 by five votes. And yesterday’s race was decided by 112.

GOP Looking ahead

Rep. Robert Benvenuti, R-Lexington, told Pure Politics in a studio interview Wednesday that Miles’ win should be a bellwether for 2014.

“She’s in a heavily registered Democratic area, and she talked about Republican principles and she won. You can’t have it any better than that in my opinion,” Benvenuti said. He then outlined what his message will be heading into next year’s election as well as what he thinks the Republicans’ priorities will be should the GOP eventually take control of the House. Watch that 5:00 interview segment:

Some lessons for 2014

Republicans used the 7th House District race to test out their newest technology to track voter turnout — and, thus, the effectiveness of get-out-the-vote efforts — in real time.

Each party is allowed to send vote challengers to the polls to oversee the voting. And they can carry electronic devices. So Republican volunteers serving as challengers electronically cross-checked voters who showed up in Daviess County with their voter rolls to see who was coming out, Robertson said.

That type of technology can alert field organizers to trends, such as where to send volunteers to remind reliable party supporters to go vote.

Meanwhile, party officials offered competing views about the effectiveness of nationalizing the races.

Stumbo said if Republicans try to link Democratic House candidates with President Barack Obama, Democrats can counter in-kind:

But Sen. Sara Beth Gregory, R-Monticello, won a special election a year ago to move from the House to the Senate, told political reporter Nick Storm that Democratic policies from Washington and the Obama administration offer plenty of fertile ground for Republicans to plow.

_- With reporting from Frankfort by Nick Storm and from Northern Kentucky by Don Weber. _

About Ryan Alessi

Ryan Alessi joined cn|2 in May 2010 as senior managing editor and host of Pure Politics. He is now pursuing an advanced degree in non-fiction writing from Murray State University and is a regular contributor to Pure Politics. Ryan has covered politics for more than 14 years, including seven years as a reporter for the Lexington Herald-Leader. Ryan can be reached at purepolitics@twcable.com or @mycn2 on Twitter.

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