Republicans moved a step closer Tuesday to their goal of retaking the Kentucky House for the first time since 1921.
Republican Suzanne Miles defeated Democrat Kim Humphrey in Western Kentucky's 7th House District by a narrow 112-vote margin, according to unofficial returns. Humphrey said she will request a recanvass, but such efforts rarely change the outcome of an election.
Once Miles takes office, Republicans will hold 46 seats in the 100-member House. She replaces Democrat John Arnold, who resigned in September amid allegations of sexually harassing three staffers.
Both sides were surprised by the outcome of Tuesday's election.
Republican polling in the district around Thanksgiving showed Miles losing to Humphrey by 6 points, and there was concern within the party that a loss — especially considering that the election was necessary because a Democrat resigned under pressure — would freeze donors and once again put control of the legislature out of reach.
Humphrey enjoyed high-profile support from Gov. Steve Beshear, considerable investment from the Kentucky Democratic Party and an assault on Miles from the Democratic Kentucky Family Values PAC.
Republicans Tuesday night were hailing the win as a sign of things to come.
"This race is absolutely a step in the right direction for Republicans in Kentucky, and we look forward to flipping the Kentucky House of Representatives to Republican control in 2014," Steve Robertson, chairman of the Republican Party of Kentucky, said in a statement.
Robertson attributed the win to Miles, her campaign and her closing message opposing "Obamacare," which was used in television ads run by the campaign and in automated calls recorded by U.S. Sen. Rand Paul.
Criticism of President Barack Obama's health care law, the Kentucky version of which is hailed by Democrats across the nation as a successful model, appears to have played well in a part of the state that has grown increasingly conservative.
The other factor Republicans say turned the tide was the way in which Kentucky Family Values attacked Miles.
Over the course of the last several weeks, Republicans have been locked in a battle with radio stations and the political action committee over the accuracy of the ads.
The Family Values PAC took issue with farm subsidies granted to Miles' father, agribusinessman Billy Joe Miles of Owensboro, saying that her "family's businesses got $2.5 million in federal handouts," according to a report by CN|2.
Agriculture Commissioner James Comer told the Herald-Leader Tuesday night that Democrats had significantly miscalculated, either not appreciating or not anticipating that the agriculture community would draw a distinction between farm subsidies for grain farmers and federal handouts.
The three counties that comprise the 7th House District — all of Union and portions of Daviess and Henderson — are three of the biggest grain areas in the state, Comer said.
Comer recorded an automated phone call on Miles' behalf, criticizing the "offensive" suggestion that Kentucky's farmers are accepting handouts in the form of subsidies they didn't ask for.
Sam Youngman: (502) 875-3793. Twitter: @samyoungman. Blog: bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com