Field is set for open seats in the Kentucky General Assembly

Republished from Kentucky Lantern

The race is on for nine open seats in the Kentucky General Assembly, while some legislative races were decided in Tuesday’s primary, though not by many voters.

Statewide, turnout was 12.71% according to unofficial numbers. The turnout in the 2023 primary was only about 14.5%, despite including a highly contested Republican gubernatorial race.

Eight House seats and one in the Senate are heading to a general election this fall after voters picked Republican and Democratic nominees Tuesday. Across the state, Kentuckians also decided party nominees for many local offices and presidential and congressional races

The Republican supermajorities in the 100-member House and 38-member Senate are safe heading into November, but Democrats are hoping to flip some seats to increase their caucuses. As for GOP leadership seeking reelection, some but not all will face Democratic candidates in their home districts this November. Republican leaders House Speaker David Osborne of Prospect and Senate President Robert Stivers of Manchester have no opponents.

The makeup of committees is likely to shift in the next legislative session, as some of those open seats belonged to committee chairs, such as Fruit Hill Republican Sen. Whitney Westerfield, the longtime Senate Judiciary chairman who is retiring from the legislature. House Agriculture Committee Chair Richard Heath lost to a Republican Tuesday.

A voter marks a ballot in Bowling Green, Ky.,May 21, 2024. (Kentucky Lantern photo by Austin Anthony)

Adams says early voting won, election denialism lost

Despite the traditionally low turnout in primaries, Tuesday’s election could be a sign that primaries will matter more than some general elections in Kentucky, Republican Secretary of State Michael Adams said. Some races do not have contested general elections, so primary winners automatically move onto the statehouse. 

“I think it does spell what the future looks like, which is that increasingly the primaries are going to matter a lot more than they used to, and maybe in some districts more than the general,” Adams said. 

Sample ballots on the wall at Living Hope Baptist Church in Bowling Green,May 21, 2024. (Kentucky Lantern photo by Austin Anthony)

Three incumbents fell in the primary: Republicans Sen. Adrienne Southworth, of Lawrenceburg, and Reps. Killian Timoney, of Nicholasville, and Heath, of Mayfield, lost to GOP opponents. 

Ahead of the primary, Adams told the Kentucky Lantern he was watching Tuesday for the “the future of the Republican Party in Kentucky.” On Wednesday, he said that one of the biggest takeaways from the primary election for him was that Liberty Republicans who questioned the integrity of elections lost their races, while others who did not go that route were successful. 

One such Republican was Southworth who openly denied election outcomes and pushed disinformation regarding election security. She lost Tuesday to Aaron Reed, of Shelbyville, who now heads to a general election against Democrat Rhonda Davis. 

“I hope that the takeaway for that wing of the party is this is not a good strategy,” Adams said. “One, you lose a lot of people who know better, which I think is most voters. And number two, you’re telling your own voters not to bother voting.” 

Adams also saw the primary as a good sign for early voting, especially among Republicans. He said it was the third consecutive primary election in which early voting has increased. Of the almost 444,000 who voted, more than 75,000 Kentuckians took part in no-excuse early voting this election, with most being registered Republicans. 

Michael Adams. (Kentucky Lantern photo by Matthew Mueller)

For the November election, which includes the 2024 presidential race, Adams said he will advocate for voters to use early voting to avoid lines on Election Day as a higher turnout is expected, increasing the need for polling locations and poll workers. 

During the 2024 legislative session, a bill was introduced to end early voting, but it died in a Senate committee. 

“Republicans love early voting,” Adams said, “and I hope that legislators who are trying to take it away — all of whom are Republicans — will realize that No. 1, it’s not (only) popular with voters generally, but No. 2, you’re hurting yourself with voters of your own party, if you take this away from Kentucky.” 

The election results are unofficial until they become certified in the coming days. Adams said candidates still have time to request a recanvass, but none had as of Wednesday afternoon.

One open Senate seat will be contested in the fall

Of the four open seats in the Senate, only one has a general election in the fall — Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer’s seat in the 17th Senate District. The remaining three seats will stay with their current parties, two GOP and one Democratic. 

In  the 17th Senate District, Matt Nunn defeated Julia Jaddock on the Republican side with 67% of the vote. Kiana Fields was the only Democrat to file for this election. 

The successor to Republican Sen. John Schickel in the 11th District was decided Tuesday. Rep. Steve Rawlings, a Burlington Republican, defeated Duane Froelicher in the GOP primary. Rawlings received 77% of the vote. No Democrats filed to run for Schickel’s seat. 

Westerfield’s seat in the 3rd Senate District drew only one candidate, Republican Craig Richardson. According to his website, Richardson is an attorney in Hopkinsville. 

Sen. Denise Harper Angel’s seat in the 35th Senate District will remain with another Louisville Democrat. Rep. Keturah Herron was the only candidate to file for election to the seat. 

Kentucky House contests

Of the 10 open House seats, five are currently held by Republicans and five by Democrats. Two of those seats were decided Tuesday in Democratic primaries. 

In Lexington Democrat Rep. Ruth Ann Palumbo’s 76th District seat won’t be staying in the family. Anne Gay Donworth took 44% of the vote, defeating Joshua Buckman and James Palumbo, the incumbent’s son. No Republicans filed for the seat. Donworth is the director of development, marketing and communications for the Lexington Public Library. 

In the Democratic primary for Herron’s seat in the 42th District, Joshua Watkins received 53% of the vote over Jonathan Musselwhite and Jack Walker. Watkins is director of strategic initiatives for Louisville Metro Government. No Republicans filed for this seat. 

The remaining eight seats are heading to a general election this fall. 

In the 24th House District, the winner of a March special election, Rep. Courtney Gilbert, R-Hodgenville, did not file for reelection. One Democrat, Johnny Pennington, filed for the race. In the GOP primary, Ryan Bivens defeated Asa Waggoner with 75% of the vote. 

Longtime Louisville Republican Rep. Kevin Bratcher’s seat was hotly contested. Bratcher did  not seek reelection in the 29th House District and ran instead for Louisville Metro Council. In the Democratic primary, Timothy Findley Jr. received 42% of the vote over Matthew Pfaadt and Ricky Santiago. Findley will face Republican Chris Lewis, who defeated Debbie Peden and Wyatt Allison with 68% of the vote in the GOP primary. 

Another Louisville lawmaker, Democratic Rep. Josie Raymond of the 41st House District, also opted to run for Metro Council. Former Rep. Mary Lou Marzian defeated Rick Adams in the Democratic primary with 71% of the vote. Marizan goes to a general election with Republican Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell. 

Bratcher won his local primary and will face a Democrat in the fall. Raymond was the lone primary candidate in her race but could face an independent in the general election.

For Minority Floor Leader and Frankfort Democrat Rep. Derrick Graham’s seat in the 57th District, voters will decide between Republican Kyle Thompson and Democrat Erika Hancock. Hancock defeated Kristie Powe with 67% of the vote in the Democratic primary. 

For Georgetown Republican Rep. Phillip Pratt’s seat in the 62nd District, Tony Hampton defeated Bill Parker in the GOP primary with 70% of the vote. Hampton will  vye  for the seat against Democrat Kevin Kidwell. 

Because Rawlings sought election to the Senate, his seat in the 66th House District is now open. In the GOP primary, T.J. Roberts defeated former Rep. Ed Massey with 74% of the vote. Roberts is now running against Democrat Peggy Houston-Nienaber. 

Minority Whip and Newport Democratic Rep. Rachel Roberts announced she would not seek reelection in the 67th District. Matthew Lehman was the only Democrat to file for the seat there. He will face Terry Hatton, the winner of the GOP primary. Hatton defeated Brian Ormes with 82% of the vote on Tuesday. 

Four Democrats filed for the primary in the 98th House District after Russell Republican Rep. Danny Bentley announced he would not seek reelection. Tuesday’s winner was Tammie Womack with 42% of the vote. Womack will face Republican Aaron Thompson. 

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