FRANKFORT — Democrat Terry Mills won a special election Tuesday to fill a state House seat that Republicans had held since 2003.
Mills, a retired Social Security Administration employee from Lebanon, outdistanced Republican Leo Johnson, a self-employed building contractor from Windsor in Casey County, to capture the 24th District House seat. The district covers Casey and Marion counties and five precincts in Pulaski County.
Mills, 59, will serve for the rest of this year to fill out the remainder of Republican Jimmy Higdon's term. Higdon, a Lebanon grocer, was elected to the state Senate in a special election in December.
Johnson, 31, took Casey and Pulaski counties in Tuesday's race, but Mills won big in Marion County.
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The unofficial district tally was Mills with 3,001 votes and Johnson with 2,518.
Both Mills and Johnson have filed to run in the May 18 primary election when parties select their nominees for the Nov. 2 general election. Mills is unopposed in the primary; Johnson faces M.J. "Bill" Pickerill, a Lebanon auto dealer and five-term member of the Lebanon City Council, in the GOP primary.
The winner in November will serve a two-year term beginning in January 2011.
Tuesday's special election was needed after Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear last year appointed Senate Majority Leader Dan Kelly, R-Springfield, to a circuit judgeship, and Higdon successfully ran for Kelly's state Senate seat.
Mills said he was "overwhelmed" by his victory and attributed it to "a very good team of supporters."
Johnson said the difference in the race was the large turnout in Marion County, which Mills won 2,611 to 333.
Marion County Clerk Karen Spalding said voter turnout in her county was 24.2 percent, much higher than was expected.
Johnson carried Casey County 1,772 to 344 and Pulaski County 413 to 46.
Party registration in the district was nearly even — 12,903 Democrats and 12,441 Republicans. A total of 797 voters in the district are registered with other parties.
Both Mills and Johnson said the race was "clean" and void of negative campaigning.
Mills' win puts the Democrats' margin of control in the state House over Republicans at 65 to 35.