FRANKFORT — Agriculture Commissioner James Comer stood before a lively audience at the Marriott Griffin Gate in Lexington Tuesday night and declared that 2012 was "a good year to be a Republican in Kentucky."
The GOP made gains in the state House, state Senate and added another conservative to Kentucky's congressional delegation on Tuesday night. Unofficial results show Republicans picking up four state House seats, one state Senate seat and Central Kentucky's 6th Congressional District seat.
Steve Robertson, the chairman of the Republican Party of Kentucky, credited the party's message of fiscal responsibility as the driver of Tuesday's election results.
"Kentucky voters want more conservative leaders in Frankfort and Washington D.C.," Robertson said. "Kentucky voters have said 'give us more fiscally responsible state government.'"
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Democrats are still in control of the Kentucky House with 55 Democrats compared to 45 Republicans. The state Senate, which has been in Republican control since 2000, became even more Republican with the defeat of Democratic Sen. Joey Pendleton in Western Kentucky's 3rd District. Republicans now hold 22 seats compared to 14 for Democrats. An independent senator also caucuses with Republicans and one seat in a strongly-Republican district remains open.
Democrats counter that Republicans fell far short of their goal of taking over the state House. Republicans needed to gain 10 seats to topple the Democrats, who have held the majority in the state's lower chamber since 1921.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said Republicans made only minor gains even with one of the most unpopular Democratic presidents in Kentucky's history at the top of the ticket. Democrats recruited well and started to stockpile money early to ward off the Republican threat, he said.
"We took the best shot that they could give us and we're still standing," Stumbo said. "In the next cycle, the tables will be turned again. U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell will be at the top of the ticket and what I think the national election showed is that voters are tired of the Republicans' obstructionist policies."
In statewide contests, Democrats still dominate, Stumbo said. Comer is the sole Republican constitutional officer.
Robertson also credited a strong stable of candidates in open House seats. Republicans were able to pick up four open seats that were vacated by retiring Democratic incumbents.
"In short, we had good candidates and we had a good message," Robertson said. "The candidates and the party and the caucus committees set fund-raising records."
Republican challengers also took out two Democratic incumbents, but Democrats were able to topple one GOP incumbent and capture an open seat previously held by a Republican.
Several House races were decided by razor-thin margins, including Democratic Rep. John Arnold of Sturgis in the 7th House District. Arnold beat Republican challenger Tim Kline by five votes.
Rep. Teddy Edmonds, a Democrat from Jackson, lost by 134 votes in the 91st House District. There were no official requests for a re-canvass by Wednesday afternoon, but candidates have until 4 p.m. Tuesday to make an official request, said Lynn Sowards Zellen, a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.
A conservative group who opposes the expansion of gambling at the state's racetracks said several pro-gambling candidates were defeated on Tuesday and replaced by candidates opposed to the expansion of gambling.
Pendleton and Edmonds had voted for measures that would lead to the expansion of gambling. Pendleton's Republican replacement, Whitney Westerfield, has been quoted saying he opposes expanded gambling.
"The odds against expanded gambling in Kentucky just got steeper," said Martin Cothran, senior policy analyst for the Family Foundation, a Lexington non-profit.
Stumbo, who has pushed in the past for casino-style gambling, said Tuesday's election may have little effect on the outcome of the controversial topic that has been debated for more than two decades in Frankfort.
"It wasn't even an issue in those races," Stumbo said.