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Election Eve Analysis of State House Races November 7, 2016 by Richard Nelson

Democrats dominate the Kentucky state House by a 53-47 margin—an chamber they've held for 95 straight years. This makes Kentucky the last remaining state House in the South controlled by Democrats. That could all change tomorrow if the voter anger we've seen translates into action. Here's a brief analysis of several races in play.

Two members of the House switched from Democrat to Republican and both are in very tight races. Denny Butler of Louisville is in a strong Democratic District. Jim Gooch of Providence in far Western Kentucky is also in a Democratic district, but they are conservative Democrats. The GOP will do well if they can retain one of these seats.

Two other Republicans are facing tough challenges. David Hale who represents Menifee, Powell and Montgomery Counties in Eastern Kentucky is also in a tough re-election bid. So is Suzanne Miles of Daviess County. It is important for both candidates to hold their seats for a GOP majority to prevail.

There are several open seats this year. A bellwether is the 23rd District seat of Barron County where Republican candidate Steve Riley is on the ballot. If Riley wins this seat, Republicans will have a chance to win the House. If they fail, it doesn't portend well for a GOP takeover. Other GOP candidates running for open seats include: Frank Justice in Pikeville, John VanMeter of Maysville and Chad McCoy of Bardstown. Republicans need to win two out of three of these seats. Open seats that GOP candidates are expected to win include Rob Rothenberger of Shelbyville, Kim Moser of Taylor Mill, and Ken Fleming of Louisville. Jason Nemes of Louisville knocked off GOP incumbent Ron Crim earlier this year and is expected to win.

Hot races to watch in Western Kentucky include Robby Mills of Henderson, DJ Johnson of Owensboro, Matt Castlen of Maceo, Jason Petrie of Elkton and Brandon Reed of Hodgenville. Each are challenging seasoned Democrats in districts dominated by Democratic registration. If the GOP wins two of these seats, it is likely going to be a very good night for Kentucky Republicans.

Eastern Kentucky is the best chance for GOP pickups. Hot races include GOP candidates John Blanton of Salyersville, Chris Fugate of Chavies, Chad Shannon of Middlesboro, and Gary Herald of Beattyville. The GOP must win at least two of these seats.

Now for the surprise races that few thought would be competitive just a few months ago. Speaker Greg Stumbo is running the political race of his life. He was recently quoted as saying "My opponent can't beat me, but Donald Trump can." Eastern Kentucky's coal economy has been devastated and candidates linked to national Democrats should not fare well. Larry Brown of Prestonsburg could pull a huge upset on election night by ousting Speaker Stumbo. Also, Majority Leader Rocky Adkins has a serious challenger in Wendy Fletcher of Morehead. If either one of these Democratic House leaders is defeated, look for the GOP to have a House majority of 7-9 members.

The wildcard in this election is voter turnout. Voter anger is there but it's a question of who will turn out to vote. Donald Trump is expected to win Kentucky by double digits, but the question remains: how long will his coattails be? We'll find out soon enough.



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