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Democrats Keep Control of Kentucky House After Winning 3 of 4 Special Races

Republicans in Kentucky have made it a priority to capture control of the House of Representatives, the last bastion of Democratic power in Frankfort.

The GOP got its best shot in recent memory on Tuesday when 4 seats were up for grabs in special elections, vacancies caused by the elevation of two representatives to statewide office (Rep. Mike Harmon to Auditor and Rep. Ryan Quarles to Agriculture Commissioner) and two caused by new Republican Governor Matt Bevin's appointment of Democrats to administrative roles. 

Heading into the night, Democrats had control, 50-46 (with 4 vacancies) and Republicans were hopeful that they could at least tie it up at 50. With the victories, Democrats held on to control of the House and extended its margin to 53 to 47. 

Republican Quarles will be replaced by Democrat Chuck Tackett who won the district around Georgetown in Scott County. Harmon's seat stayed in Republican hands as Daniel Elliott won the district in the south-central part of the state that includes Danville. Democrats Jeff Taylor and Lew Nicholls won districts in Hopkinsville and Greenup County, respectively.

The celebratory reaction from the Democratic Party - desperate for a positive narrative after crushing defeats in November that included the loss of the governor's mansion - was swift. 

"Kentuckians have spoken, and these victories are a repudiation of Gov. Bevin's efforts to dismantle public education and healthcare," said Kentucky Democratic Party Chair Sannie Overly, a state representative from Paris who was the lieutenant governor candidate on Jack Conway's losing gubernatorial campaign last fall. "Trying to dismantle Kynect, which has helped more than half a million Kentuckians obtain health insurance, is a perfect example of the bad decisions Bevin is making that will hurt the people of the Commonwealth. These candidates won because they are all good leaders – and they will serve Kentucky well. Tonight is not just a victory for them, but it is a victory for every Kentuckian." 

"We are grateful and humbled by the resounding victories tonight that our candidates accomplished all across Kentucky," said House Speaker Greg Stumbo (D-Prestonburg). "When Democrats stand up for education, health care, for protecting senior citizens, we win. These elections tonight clearly show the House Democratic agenda, especially protecting public education and making kids work ready for the 21st century, is accepted by voters in Kentucky in the East, in the West, and Central Kentucky." 

"Tonight represents a win not only for the Democratic Party but for Kentucky families," said Attorney General Andy Beshear. "Families disagree with balancing the budget on the backs of elementary students through cuts to Family Resource and Youth Services Centers and other programs. They disagree with draconian cuts to higher education that make college even less affordable for working families. And they disagree with taking healthcare away from our friends and neighbors who need it the most." 

"Kentuckians went to the polls today and spoke loud and clear -- they want checks and balances in their state government," said Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kentucky's Secretary of State. "I look forward to welcoming Lew Nicholls, Chuck Tackett, and Jeff Taylor to Frankfort. Together, we will continue to work hard to protect our children's future and stand up for our middle class." 

Former Auditor Adam Edelen who was ousted from office by Harmon in one of November's biggest surprises -- and biggest blows to the Democrats -- also spoke up after the victories. "Huge night for those who believe (government) ought to be on the side of students, the previously uninsured, and people who work for a living," Edelen posted to Facebook. "A stunning rebuke of Governor Bevin's Mississippi agenda."

For his part, Gov. Bevin struck a positive tone in defeat. The social media savvy Republican posted his response to Twitter: "While we would have loved to have won all four seats tonight, we are delighted that we are another step closer to a (new majority). (Wednesday) there will be one more conservative vote in the House than we had in November. We look forward to carrying our conservative message into the fall elections. (With) 91 Republicans on the ballot this fall and with either a Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton on the ballot as well, we like our odds in November."

-Staff report