SPOTLIGHT

The Latest Case of Southern Democratic Demise

Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin smiles as he is introduced at the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce dinner, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016 at Heritage Hall in Lexington, Ky.
AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley
March 7, 2016, 10:45 a.m.

Fly­ing well be­neath a radar packed with pres­id­en­tial primary news, Ken­tucky is hold­ing four state House spe­cial elec­tions Tues­day that could have sig­ni­fic­ant re­per­cus­sions on the state’s polit­ics and serve as a re­flec­tion of the rap­idly evolving polit­ics of the South.

— If Re­pub­lic­ans win each of the four seats up for grabs Tues­day, the state House would be evenly di­vided at 50 seats apiece. That split-party con­trol would provide Re­pub­lic­ans with even more mo­mentum after emer­ging from Novem­ber’s elec­tions with four of six statewide of­fices, in­clud­ing gov­ernor, and with all 100 state House seats up for reelec­tion this fall.

— Four Demo­crat­ic losses Tues­day would end the party’s 95-year run of con­trolling the Ken­tucky state House, which is the last le­gis­lat­ive cham­ber in the South where Demo­crats hold a ma­jor­ity. Else­where in the re­gion, where Demo­crats hold a single gov­ernor’s man­sion thanks to an up­set in Louisi­ana last year, the mar­gins aren’t even close. Gov. Matt Bev­in’s vic­tory a few months ago fa­cil­it­ated the po­ten­tially his­tor­ic­al elec­tions. Two state House Demo­crats sub­sequently switched parties, nudging the ma­jor­ity with­in reach for the GOP. With Demo­crats cur­rently hold­ing a 50-46 edge, the elec­tions will fill the seats of two oth­er Demo­crats Bev­in ap­poin­ted to state po­s­i­tions and two state House Re­pub­lic­ans who were elec­ted to statewide of­fices in Novem­ber.

— A dis­trict to watch closely is the 98th, which in­cludes Greenup County and part of Boyd County in the north­east­ern corner of the state. Loc­al uni­on lead­ers are play­ing it up as a fight over the fu­ture of the labor move­ment, and both the Re­pub­lic­an and Demo­crat­ic can­did­ates op­pose right-to-work le­gis­la­tion. On Sat­urday, Bev­in and Rep. Thomas Massie ap­peared at a get-out-the-vote rally for Re­pub­lic­an Tony Quil­len, while Sec­ret­ary of State Al­is­on Lun­der­gan Grimes and state House lead­ers ral­lied for Demo­crat Lew Nich­olls. They’re vy­ing for the seat of Demo­crat Tan­ya Pul­lin, who resigned after Bev­in ap­poin­ted her as an ad­min­is­trat­ive law judge.

The Ken­tucky res­ults are worth keep­ing an eye on while watch­ing re­turns out of Michigan, Mis­sis­sippi, and Idaho — and while wait­ing on Hawaii. If Re­pub­lic­ans are suc­cess­ful, the res­ults will provide fur­ther af­firm­a­tion of the party’s dom­in­ance at the state level and a re­mind­er that 2020 re­dis­trict­ing is just around the corner.
Kyle Tryg­stad

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