Politics

Kentucky Democrats expected some close races for statewide offices on Tuesday.

They didn’t expect to lose this one.

Incumbent state Auditor Adam Edelen lost his bid for re-election Tuesday to Republican state Rep. Mike Harmon.

Edelen conceded the race just after 9 p.m. Eastern, as Republican challenger Harmon found himself with more than half the votes just a couple hours after polls closed throughout the state.

“Defeat is never easy,” Edelen told supporters gathered in Frankfort.

Overall, Harmon’s victory was just one part of a big election night for Kentucky Republicans. Matt Bevin will become just the second Republican governor of the state since the early 1970s. The GOP also picked up the state treasurer’s office and held onto the agriculture commissioner’s post.

A Bluegrass Poll released just last week showed Edelen — and Democratic candidate for governor Jack Conway — with leads in their races. But Republicans ended up taking both spots. Voter turnout was just 31 percent statewide.

Democrats held onto two constitutional offices: Alison Lundergan Grimes was re-elected as Secretary of State and Andy Beshear will replace Attorney General Conway, who lost Tuesday’s governor’s race.

A rising star in the Kentucky Democratic Party, Edelen said his immediate plans are to head “back to the private sector” and coach youth sports. Edelen congratulated Harmon, who came in as a clear underdog.

Harmon celebrated with GOP supporters in Louisville. He recognized his underdog role, comparing the race to the biblical David and Goliath.

He said he would focus his work on fixing the problems of the state’s troubled pension systems.

“The biggest elephant in the room is the pensions,” Harmon said. “I’m going to push for full performance audits. I’m going to do everything we can to get them back on track.”

Republican Ryan Quarles won the state agriculture commissioner race against Democrat Jean-Marie Lawson Spann.

During his victory speech, Quarles told supporters in Louisville he will continue to push back against President Barack Obama’s “out of touch and out of control” Environmental Protection Agency. He said the first thing on his agenda would be “assembling a transition team to make sure that the leaders of Kentucky are well-represented in the next Department of Agriculture.”

Quarles said he wants to continue the Kentucky Proud program and agriculture education efforts.

“Where we teach kids and young Kentuckians that food does not come from the grocery story,” he said. “It comes from a family farm.”

Lawson Spann said she had no regrets about her campaign.

Outgoing state Auditor Adam EdelenJacob Ryan

Outgoing state Auditor Adam Edelen

She said she’d continue to fight for labeling of genetically modified foods, bringing medical marijuana to the state and supporting industrial hemp.

“You have not seen the last of me just yet,” Lawson Spann said in her concession speech in Frankfort.

Republican Allison Ball defeated Democratic candidate Rick Nelson in the state’s treasurer race. She’ll replace two-term Democrat Todd Hollenbach.

“I am eager to work with everyone in Frankfort, because I want to be that watchdog,” Ball said.

She said coming in as someone from “outside the system” will be a positive change for the state’s finances.

“I think that resonates with people,” she said. “I also think that people like the idea of having fresh eyes looking at these problems.”

The mood was grimmer at the Democrats’ rally in Frankfort, but the party did have two successes in statewide races. Grimes said she was honored to be re-elected, and she commended Republican challenger Steve Knipper for having “been a part of the democratic process.”

Grimes said she looks forward to breaking down barriers that keep people from voting and promised to fight to revitalize the state’s middle class.

“This is a job I love,” she said. “The work begins tomorrow.”

Andy Beshear will be the Kentucky’s next attorney general. The son of outgoing Gov. Steve Beshear narrowly defeated Republican challenger state Sen. Whitney Westerfield.

Beshear said he would focus on preventing child abuse, addressing the state’s drug epidemic and protecting senior citizens from what he called an “unprecedented” number of scams.

In remarks celebrating his son’s win, Gov. Steve Beshear promised that Democrats “will be back.” But in most statewide offices, Republicans will be in control for the next four years.

(Image via J. Tyler Franklin/WFPL News)

Jacob Ryan is the Metro Affairs reporter for WFPL.
Ja'Nel Johnson is the health reporter at WFPL News.