Politics & Government

Democrats keep control of Kentucky House; GOP poised to pick up 4 seats

Susan Westrom,  makes a speech after  being is re-elected to state House in Lexington's 79th District on Tuesday November 6, 2012 in Lexington, Ky.. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff
Susan Westrom, makes a speech after being is re-elected to state House in Lexington's 79th District on Tuesday November 6, 2012 in Lexington, Ky.. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff Herald-Leader

FRANKFORT — Despite a strong push by Republicans, the Kentucky House remained under Democratic control after Tuesday's election.

Republicans made modest gains Tuesday and were poised to pick up four seats. If those preliminary results stand, come January there will be 55 Democrats in the House and 45 Republicans.

Still, a handful of races remained tight as of 11 p.m. Tuesday.

Republicans had hoped to take control of the legislature's lower chamber for the first time since 1921 by picking up 10 seats. Instead, early returns suggested Republicans would win four open seats previously held by Democrats in Western and Northern Kentucky. Republican challengers also defeated two Democratic incumbents, but those gains were offset by the defeat of one Republican incumbent and a Democratic win in an open seat once held by a Republican.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, was upbeat Tuesday night after House Democrats successfully held off strong Republican challenges in multiple Democratic districts.

Republicans originally had said "they were going to take 12 seats in 2012," Stumbo said. "They were a third right and they were two-thirds wrong, and that's the history of their party."

The GOP unsuccessfully tried to tie many candidates to an unpopular President Barack Obama, Stumbo said. That strategy largely didn't work against incumbents but was more successful in open seats where the candidates were not as well known, he said.

House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover could not be reached for comment late Tuesday.

In Fayette County, two long-term Democratic incumbents held off strong Republican challengers in the 76th and 79th Districts.

In the 79th, Democratic Rep. Susan Westrom bested Chris Logan, a minister who twice has run unsuccessfully for the Urban County Council.

Democratic Rep. Ruth Ann Palumbo defeated Republican Richard Marrs for the second time in two years in the 76th District. Marrs, who owns an advertising agency, lost to Palumbo in 2010 by nearly 20 percentage points. Tuesday's race was closer, with Palumbo beating Marrs by a little more than 10 percentage points.

In another closely watched Fayette County race, Republicans retained an open seat vacated by longtime Republican Rep. Bill Farmer. Republican Robert Benvenuti, a former inspector general for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, beat Democrat Reggie Thomas in the 88th District.

In other races that include Fayette County precincts, state Rep. Stan Lee, a Republican who was first elected in 2001, easily defeated Independent Breck Withers and Green Party candidate Geoff Young in the 45th District. Democrat Rep. Carl Rollins also retained his seat in the 56th District, which includes Woodford and parts of Franklin and Fayette counties. Rollins defeated Republican challenger Doug Jones.

In another rematch from 2010, state Rep. Ryan Quarles, R-Georgetown, defeated Democrat Charlie Hoffman in the 62nd District, which covers Scott County and a portion of northern Fayette County.

In Clark County, first-term Republican Rep. Donna Mayfield survived a challenge by Democrat JoEllen Reed in the race for the 73rd District seat.

Republicans also were able to retain control of an open seat that includes Garrard County and a portion of Madison County. Jonathan Shell, a 24-year-old farmer, beat Democrat Bud Montgomery of Berea in the 36th District. That position was held by Republican Lonnie Napier, who retired earlier this year. Shell will be the youngest member of the House come January.

The two Democratic incumbents ousted Tuesday were Rep. Linda Belcher of Shepherdsville, who lost to Russell Webber in the 49th District, and Rep. Ted Edmonds of Jackson, who lost to Republican Gary Herald of Beattyville in the 91st District.

Republican incumbent Mike Nemes of Louisville lost in the 38th House District. He was defeated by Democrat Denver "Denny" Butler.