Democrat Reginald Thomas emerged from a three-man race to win Tuesday's special election to represent much of Lexington in the state Senate.
Thomas ended up overwhelming former Democrat-turned-Independent Richard Moloney in what was a seemingly close campaign that most Lexington voters ultimately ignored.
The turnout — less than 11 percent of registered voters cast a ballot in the 13th Senate District — was roughly one-third of what Rupp Arena usually draws for University of Kentucky Wildcats basketball games and half of the total Western Kentucky voters put forth in Tuesday's other special election.
While Thomas and Moloney battled fiercely in recent weeks, Thomas ended up winning 54 percent of the vote, compared to 35 percent for Moloney, a margin that Thomas attributed Tuesday night to the help of Gov. Steve Beshear and the Kentucky Democratic Party.
"This was a party victory," said Thomas, who becomes the first black state senator from Lexington. "This wasn't a Reggie Thomas victory."
Democratic registration in the district, which includes downtown Lexington and the University of Kentucky, outnumbers Republican registration by a ratio of about 2-to-1.
Michael Johnson, the Republican candidate, struggled from the beginning to establish his campaign and raise money, factors reflected in his distant third-place showing with 11 percent of the vote.
In separate interviews after Moloney conceded the race, Thomas, a lawyer and professor at Kentucky State University, and Moloney, a former city and state official, said they were ready to put whatever hard feelings grew during the campaign aside.
"That's yesterday's news," Thomas said. "Richard's a good man, and I admire the work that he's done in Lexington."
During the campaign, Thomas repeatedly accused Moloney of being a Republican even though Moloney was a longtime Democrat until switching his registration to Independent in recent months. Meanwhile, Moloney questioned Thomas' trustworthiness, accusing him of not fully explaining why he left the UK law school as a professor in 1984.
While Moloney was largely magnanimous in defeat, he suggested that Thomas lacks experience dealing with the types of challenges he'll encounter in Frankfort.
"I got no problem with Reggie," Moloney said. "I congratulate him, and I wish him all the luck in the world."
He added that "it's going to be a tough time up there with the budget coming out."
"Hopefully, he gets to learning quick because it's going to be a big learning curve for somebody who's never done it before," Moloney said. "But I wish him all the luck in the world."
Thomas has previously pledged not to take the official oath of office until the new year, a move that would save the state thousands of dollars in pension benefits.
Thomas said Tuesday night that he ran on the issues of education and jobs and he plans to start working on improving both for Lexington right away.
Starting Wednesday morning, Thomas said, he will call the heads of the district's educational institutions to find out what he can do to help. He also said he plans to call Mayor Jim Gray and the Lexington Chamber of Commerce to set up appointments to figure out how they can bring more jobs to Lexington.
"Reggie will bring tremendous experience in education to Frankfort, and I look forward to working with him to move Kentucky forward by expanding economic opportunity, providing affordable health care and improving education," Beshear said in a statement Tuesday night.
Reginald Thomas 4,040 54%
Richard Moloney 2,617 35%
Michael E. Johnson 851 11%
100 percent reporting
Sam Youngman: (502) 875-3793. Twitter: @samyoungman. Blog: bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.comSam Youngman: (502) 875-3793. Twitter: @samyoungman. Blog: bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com