State House races 2018: The districts that are likely to be in play

10/11/2017 11:13 AM

In 2016 Republicans finally achieved what they had been trying to do for years, halt Democratic advances in Kentucky and take control of the state House of Representatives.

Now that Republicans control the lower chamber with a 64 to 36 super majority, they will face their first test in holding their legislative advantage. The map of races on the table currently sit well for the GOP as more Democrats announce their plans to leave office, and the state party struggles to raise needed campaign cash.

The following is a first blush look at the district maps, and which districts could come into play next year.

Open Races:

Both of the races where we know there will be open seats look likely to change hands from Democrats to Republicans as two-conservative Democrats are choosing not to seek re-election in 2018.

3rd District: Rep. Gerald Watkins, D-Paducah, has held the seat in the conservative district since 2013. Watkins told Pure Politics the seat which repents part of McCracken County will be a difficult seat for Democrats to retain in 2018.

87th District: Rep. Rick Nelson, D-Middlesboro, confirmed to Pure Politics that he too will not be running for re-election to the House of Representatives in 2018; instead Nelson will seek election as the Mayor of Middlesboro. Nelson has held onto the conservative district since winning election in 2001.

Watch for this category to grow as the filing deadline nears at the end of January.

Rest of the Races to Watch:

These districts represent the highest potential for Democrats to win back seats.

8th District: Currently held by Rep. Walker Thomas, R-Hopkinsville, this seat was formerly held by Democratic Rep. Jeff Taylor. Thomas defeated Taylor 51.9 percent, to 48.1 percent.

11th District: Rep. Robby Mills, R-Henderson, is in his freshman year representing the district which should be favorable to Democrats. If Democrats can find some cash look for them to spend in this area.

14th District: Rep. Matt Castlen, R-Maceo, is also a first term House member who won an upset election during 2016 knocking off 14-year incumbent Rep. Tommy Thompson of Owensboro.

This was a former safe Democratic district and the KDP will need it to swing back its way if they hope to chip away at the GOP super majority.

13th District: Rep. D.J. Johnson, R-Owensboro, narrowly defeated former Democratic Rep. Jim Glenn, D-Owensboro, 50.8 percent to 49.2 percent in November of 2016. Races in this district have been incredibly close for several election cycles, and should be in 2018 with the right Democratic candidate.

15th District: Rep. Melinda Prunty, R-Belton, upset former long-time state Rep. Brent Yonts, D-Greenville, as part of the GOP wave that swept Kentucky in 2016, but the question becomes what voters make their way to the polls come November 2018 when President Trump isn’t on the ballot. The district favors Democrats in registration two-to-one.

16th District This district is a similar storyline for Democrats, once safely Democratic in representation by former Rep. Martha Jane King, and now in the hands of the Republicans. Rep. Jason Petrie, R-Elkton, will face his first defense of the seat in the 2018 election cycle.

24th District: Rep. Brandon Reed, R-Hodgenville, took out Rep. Terry Mills, D-Lebanon, with late movement in the polls in the 2016 election – potentially signaling a swing the electorate towards Trump, without the GOP president at the top of the ticket the question becomes what the electorate looks like in November of 2018, and, of course, who the Democrats run to take on the freshman legislator.

49th District: Rep. Dan Johnson, R-Mt. Washington, defeated former Rep. Linda Belcher, D-Shepherdsville, 50.4 percent to 49.6 percent, a margin of just 156 votes in 2016. Belcher has been active in her time away from the legislature and will likely vie for the position once again. Johnson faced controversy during the election being disavowed by the Republican Party of Kentucky in 2016 for racially charged social media posts.

62nd District: Rep. Phillip Pratt, R-Georgetown, could face Democratic efforts to win the district which encompasses part of Fayette, all of Owen and part of Scott County. The district fell in to Democratic hands in a special election in 2016, and then went right back to the GOP in November of that year.

81st District: Rep. Wesley Morgan, R-Richmond, has managed to generate negative news headlines since joining the legislature in 2016. Morgan won the seat with 50.2 percent of the vote for former Democratic Rep. Rita Smart’s 49.8 percent of the vote.

On the Radar:
Here are the other GOP held seats to watch which could turn into races:

7th District: Held by Rep. Suzanne Miles, R-Owensboro.
33rd District: Held by Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville.
50th District: Held by Rep. Chad McCoy, R-Bardstown.
74th District: Held by Rep. David Hale, R-Wellington.
78th District: Held by Rep. Mark Hart, R-Falmouth.
91st District: Held by Rep. Toby Herald, R-Beattyville.
98th District: Held by Rep. Danny Bentley, R-Russell.

The following district represent the most likely districts for the Republican Party to target in 2018.

6th District: Rep. Will Coursey, D-Symosonia, has fended off GOP challengers in recent election cycles, but the Frankfort rumor mill speculates that the Democratic lawmaker could be looking at local offices. The rumors have been speculated over before, so don’t count on Coursey to leave Frankfort.

10th District: Rep. Dean Schamore, D-Hardinsburg, was targeted by Republicans in 2016, and will likely make the list of Democrats in 2018 as well. Schamore made his way into the lower chamber during the 2014 election cycle picking up the then open seat. The self-employed information technician was one of several House Democrats targeted by the GOP over votes during the legislative session.

Republican and Democratic voters are nearly even in this district which encompasses Breckenridge, Hancock and part of Hardin Counties.

20th District: Rep. Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, has been a target for Republicans in recent cycles, but he’s held on to the seat he’s been representing since 1976. If Richards files for another term he will likely still have the support of the voters, but if he opts to retire after a career in the majority this seat could end up in GOP hands.

22nd District: Republicans telegraphed their desire for this seat during the 2017 General Assembly. Rep. Wilson Stone, D-Scottsville, has held the seat since 2009 in the southern Kentucky district which encompasses all of Allen, Simpson and part of Warren County. Stone did not draw a GOP challenger in the 2016 election cycle.

27th District: – Brandenburg insurance agent and Democratic Rep. Jeff Greer has represented the district which includes part of Hardin and all of Meade County since 2007. Greer’s district falls far enough away from urban areas, and that may be enough to draw the attention of GOP dollars in Republican’s efforts to increase their majority in the lower chamber.

39th District: Rep. Russ Meyer, D-Nicholasville, caught the attention of Republican Gov. Matt Bevin during 2016 as a potential target — and could become one again. Some speculate the former Nicholasville mayor would seek local elected office again after joining the minority in 2016.

47th District: Bedford Democratic Rep. Rick Rand went unopposed in the 2016 election cycle, but with Republicans in control of the House he may not be so lucky come 2018. Rand’s last contested General Election came in 2012.

56th District: Rep. James Kay, D-Versailles, is another Democrat which Frankfort rumor mills have placed in the considering leaving office category. Kay did not respond to a request for comment on his future. If he does leave it represents opportunities for the GOP.

70th District: Rep. John Sims, D-Flemingsburg, handily defeated his GOP challenger in the 2016 election, but his rural district of Bracken, Fleming, Mason, and Roberts Counties meets the early criteria for a district which could support a Republican candidate, despite registration statistics.

93rd District: Eastern Kentucky Democrats like Rep. Chris Harris, D-Forest Hills, will be in the sights of Republicans in the upcoming election. Democrats outnumber Republicans in the rural district, but that has meant less and less in recent years as voters who once registered Democrat to vote in gubernatorial primaries are now voting for Republicans.

94th District: Rep. Angie Hatton, D-Whitesburg, managed to pick up the open seat race in 2016 with a mere 240 vote margin. Republicans have tipped their hands in their desire to win this seat with a round of out-of-cycle robocalls targeting Hatton during the 2017 regular legislative session.

100th District – Rep. Kevin Sinnette, D-Ashland, narrowly held onto the 100th House District seat in 2016 with a margin of 160 votes. He’s another eastern Kentucky Democrat that could come under fire once again by Republicans, but this time the GOP doesn’t have President Obama of Hillary Clinton to use in the campaign.

Nick Storm

Nick Storm is the Anchor and Managing Editor of Pure Politics available exclusively on Spectrum News. Pure Politics is the only nightly program dedicated to Kentucky politics. Nick covers all of the political heavyweights and his investigative work brings to light issues that might otherwise go unnoticed, like his coverage of the backlog of DNA rape kits waiting to be tested in Kentucky. Nick is also working on a feature length bio documentary Outlaw Poet: A documentary on Ron Whitehead. Pure Politics airs weeknight at 7 and 11:30 on Spectrum News. Follow Nick on Twitter @NStorm_Politics. Nick can be reached at 502-792-1107 or nicholas.storm@charter.com.

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