Voters fine with Ky. House staying blue

Kentucky has been an overwhelmingly red state in federal elections for nearly two decades. At the state level, though, it remains purple.

Incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell carried 111 of the commonwealth's 120 counties in his surprisingly easy 15-point victory over Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.

But many voters who opted for McConnell at the top of Tuesday's ballot switched parties when it came to selecting their state representative, allowing Democrats to retain their 54-46 majority in the House.

Multiple factors contribute to the ballot-splitting tendencies on display Tuesday. Perhaps the biggest is the fact that incumbents usually win, particularly those who are better financed than their challengers.

Majority legislative caucuses can raise far more money than minority caucuses, and a majority caucus aided by a governor of the same party can ratchet up the fundraising significantly.

So, House Democrats had a ton more cash to spend on behalf of incumbents and newcomers alike than House Republicans did in this election cycle.

In the Senate, where the "have" and "have not" parties are reversed, Republicans used their financial advantage to add two votes to their majority. (Arguably, House Democrats picked up a vote as well. Redistricting put Democratic Rep. John Will Stacy in a district with an incumbent Republican. Stacy chose not to seek re-election. So, Democrats controlled just 53 seats going into Tuesday's election. They came out of it controlling 54 seats.)

Recent Republican gains in the House largely have come from the party's ability to pick up open seats, particularly in Western Kentucky. This year, the six open seats created by retirement or redistricting (controlled by the Democratic majority) broke even.

Grimes helped House Democrats by keeping McConnell preoccupied with his own re-election. Even the McConnell campaign's superior get-out-the-vote effort in the Senate race didn't trickle down to the benefit of House Republican candidates.

And in state legislative races, where voters are more likely to know candidates personally or at least know quite a bit about them, the Republican strategy of linking all Democrats to a president who is extremely unpopular in the commonwealth fizzled.

The only Democratic loss in state legislative races that could remotely be attributed to Kentuckians' dislike of President Barack Obama was Senate Minority Leader R.J. Palmer's defeat. And it was more likely the result of Palmer running an ad he should never have run, an ad that allowed opponent Ralph Alvarado, rightly or wrongly, to claim the role of victim.

Being purple has at least one benefit for Kentuckians. Shared control of the General Assembly forces both parties to give a little to get a little when dealing with key legislative issues.