Bloody campaign battles have broken out across Kentucky this year as Republicans vowed to wrest control of the state House from Democrats. Republicans have spent enormous amounts of PAC money to keep up with Democrats, who have continued spending at speed to maintain their advantage.
Democrats, who have controlled the House for over 90 years, have an eight-seat lead in the chamber. The state House is up for grabs after a tumultuous redistricting process rocked the boundary lines of nearly every legislator in the Statehouse. Kentucky’s House is one of only two Democrat chambers held in the mostly red “Solid South.”
House Speaker Greg Stumbo said recently he believes Democrats can not only hold the line, but pick up three to six seats. To flip the House, Republicans will need to defend their 42 seats and pick up nine more to clear a majority.
Fifty-two of the 100 House seats have challengers this year, with 25 Democrats and 23 Republicans running unopposed. Only six of the 52 are open seats; 27 are held by Democrat incumbents and 19 seats are held by Republicans.
While the partisan fracas erupts across the state Tuesday night, the following list of 13 must-watch races could give voters an early indication of which side will control the state House.
Republicans on the Run
- District 55 (Central Kentucky): Rep. Kimberly King (R) vs. Jacqueline Coleman (D)
King’s district got pushed hard during redistricting, losing portions of two counties and picking up a chunk of one. While still a relatively conservative area, the resultant uptick in Democratic registration numbers may pose a threat. Coleman, an Emerge Kentucky candidate, is a high school government teacher, basketball coach, and endorsed by a wide array of Kentucky unions.
- District 7 (Western Kentucky): Rep. Suzanne Miles (R) vs. John Warren (D)
Miles was elected by a narrow 112 votes and won the seat during a December 2013 special election for the seat formerly held by Democratic Rep. John Arnold, who resigned amid sexual harassment allegations. Daviess County Republican voters got her the seat (Henderson and Union Counties swing heavily Democratic), but Warren is a Democrat from Daviess County and poses a threat.
- District 48 (Northeastern Jefferson County): Minority Caucus Chair Bob Deweese (R) vs. Gretchen Hunt (D)
Deweese faces stark setbacks after the redistricting process, and is campaigning to retain not only the seat he’s held for 22 years, but his chairmanship in the minority party. Hunt, one of Emerge Kentucky’s three Louisville candidates, has played an aggressive ground game this year. The three Emerge candidates combined have knocked on over 16,000 doors.
- District 29 (Southeastern Jefferson County): Rep. Kevin Bratcher (R) vs. Dave Stengel (D)
Bratcher has served in the House since 1997 but now faces new territory—redistricting pushed the 29th district’s boundaries into bluer pastures. Bratcher won his last election with more than double his Democratic opponents votes, but Stengel is a former Representative for this district, and a former Jefferson County’s Commonwealth Attorney. His name recognition is a threat.
- District 50 (Nelson County area): Rep. David Floyd (R) vs. Audrey Haydon (D)
For a Republican in a majority Democrat district, Floyd enjoys a vast popularity in his district, particularly in Nelson County. He’s a well-liked moderate supported by important Catholic voting blocks, and has been outspent without being outvoted in past elections. Haydon, however, has shown a fierce ground game like other Emerge candidates this year. The Nelson County native has raised more than five times the amount in Floyd’s war chest.
Democrats on Defense
- District 13 (Western Kentucky): Rep. Jim Glenn (D) vs. Alan Braden (R)
Four-term Glenn, who won his last two terms by less than 500 votes, is in what might be his tightest race so far. The GOP wants the Owensboro district badly, and has poured money into the race. Braden, a supporter of right to work legislation and a former city commissioner, raised over $100,000. Both still have about $70,000 on hand to wind down the election.
- District 6 (Western Kentucky): Rep. Will Coursey (D) vs. Keith Travis (R)
Coursey was subject to a flurry of Hal Heiner’s statewide spending recently: Heiner, a former Republican Louisville mayoral candidate and current gubernatorial candidate, formed a super PAC that launched $22,515 in advertising for Travis in the last few weeks. This is a highly-targeted district in an ever-redder western Kentucky area, and Coursey has taken heat this year following the filing of a harassment lawsuit against him.
- District 23 (Barren County area): Rep. Johnny Bell (D) vs. Jeff Jobe (R)
This is one nasty race. Jobe, a publisher controlling nine newspapers, is a GOPAC-funded candidate who has come under fire for multiple drunk driving arrests. Bell’s response, however, sparked calls to Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway when Bell included Jobe’s Social Security number on the mailed campaign materials exposing the arrests.
- District 3 (Western Kentucky): Rep. Gerald Watkins (D) vs. Randy Bridges (R)
Gerald Watkins is a freshman representative who won by a comfortable margin in his 2013 election, but who now a challenge due to his progressive politics in an increasingly red district, and an opponent who’s spent $20,000 in PAC money trying to unseat him.
- District 78 (Northern Kentucky): Rep. Tom McKee (D) vs. Mark Hart (R)
After 18 years in the House, McKee has finds himself with a redrawn district that occupies some red turf. GOPAC-backed Hart is no stranger to politics, having been the chair of the Pendleton County Republican Party and now the mayor of Falmouth.
- District 32 (Eastern Jefferson County): Phill Moffett (R) vs. Ashley Miller (D)
Rep. Julie Adams is running for state Senate, leaving her now-expanded district wide open. Emerge candidate Miller, if elected, would be the first woman of color elected to the Kentucky legislature in a whopping 14 years. Moffett is a conservative businessman with Tea Party ties.
- District 36 (Eastern Jefferson County): Debbie Barber (D) vs. Jerry Miller (R)
The D-36 race is the quintessential redistricting face-off: this Louisville district is brand new, leaving the area wide open for either party. Emerge candidate Barber, a first-time runner will be facing off against Louisville Metro Council member Miller.
- District 53 (Spencer and Anderson counties): James Tipton (R) vs. Kent Stephens (D)
Keep an eye on this bellweather race. Another open seat created by redistricting, and the GOP needs a pickup here. The hitch will be whether Anderson County voters are willing to take another step toward Republicans, as their support for Democrats have slowly dropped off. Stevens is a former representative, but fought through a tough primary this year, while Tipton, a real estate agent, coasted in.