By Ronnie Ellis
CNHI News Service
FRANKFORT — Despite more than $175,000 spent by an outside Republican group, Democrat James Kay rode a strong showing in Woodford County Tuesday to capture the special election for the 56th state House District which includes Woodford and parts of Fayette and Franklin counties.
Kay, 30, an attorney who has worked for then Congressman Ben Chandler and state House Democratic leadership, won over Republican Lyen Crews, 51, a CPA who works for ecampus.com, a textbook company and formerly was a financial officer at Midway College, and independent John-Mark Hack, 46, owner of Marksbury Farm Market and a former agriculture official in the administration of Gov. Paul Patton.
Kay polled 3,925 votes to Crews’ 3,065. Hack finished a distant third with 1,925 votes.
Kay won by racking up a comfortable margin in Woodford County, home to all three candidates, where he polled 2,342 to Crews’ 1,664. He also won the Frankfort County precincts 881 to Crews’ 615.
Crews won the Fayette County precincts 588 votes to Kay’s 536.
“I can definitely tell you that we left nothing on the field, and my volunteers and I worked our hardest to communicate our message to voters in the district,” Crews said after vote totals were complete. “Unfortunately, we came up short tonight.”
Kay’s win means Democrats maintain their current edge in the House, 55-45 over Republicans who viewed the race as a forerunner to their hopes to swing the majority during the 2014 elections. Republicans have to be disappointed given the time, effort and money they poured into the race.
“Though we came up short tonight, the 45 members of our caucus remain committed to working on the issues and concerns that hold Kentucky back from being competitive with surrounding states,” said House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown. “We will also redouble our efforts toward 2014 in seeking to bring new life and new leadership to the Kentucky House of Representatives.”
The 8,915 votes cast in a special election in midst of summer and vacation season still represented a 25 percent turnout, perhaps higher than many expected and probably reflecting both major parties’ focus on turnout in the final week of the election.
The Republican State Leadership Committee, based in Washington, D.C., spent close to $180,000 on the race. Kay also had outside support: a Democratic group, Kentucky Family Values, spent at least $50,000 on his behalf.
Kay reported raising $132,000 for the campaign while Crews’ raised $68,000 (through the most recent reporting period). Hack had far less money – about $22,000 through the most recent reporting period. (The numbers don’t reflect money raised through tshe end of the campaign which will be reported after the election.)
But even using the incomplete totals of more than $450,000, it means the parties and candidates spent about $50 for each vote cast. That number will likely rise as final campaign reports are filed.
Both parties worked the race hard, going door-to-door and helping with fundraising. Leaders in both House caucuses as well as rank and file members from both parties worked the district multiple weekends.
Crews campaigned against Kay’s youth and inexperience and at times tried to nationalize the race by saying in advertising that Kay worked to support Obamacare. Kay supports expanded gambling while Crews opposed it but said he’d support putting the question to voters. The district has several thoroughbred farms and related businesses.
Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo said the win represents a “shot across the bow by Kentucky voters to Mitch McConnell and his followers that Kentucky is fed up with his brand of partisan politics.”
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.