LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Republicans eying a takeover of the Kentucky House hope to move one seat closer as voters in the heart of bluegrass country prepare to elect a new state representative in a special election Tuesday. Democrats hope to galvanize their historic hold on the chamber by retaining the open seat.
The three candidates in the 56th District spent their last full day of campaigning Monday in a race that attracted a lot of cash and political surrogates, signifying its strategic value heading into the 2014 election. Vying for the seat are Democrat James Kay, Republican Lyen Crews and independent John-Mark Hack.
"This is a critical race for both parties," Kentucky Democratic Party Chairman Dan Logsdon said Monday.
Democrats hold a 54-45 advantage over Republicans in the House, with the one vacant seat to be filled. A Republican win Tuesday would leave the GOP just five seats away from claiming an outright majority in the House. Republicans are firmly in control of the state Senate.
"It's a precursor to what's going to happen in 2014," Crews said. "This seat, when it turns Republican, that's going to show the Democrats in the House that the time is coming when they're not going to have control. Kentucky is going to move forward and all these bills that go to die in the House, we're going to actually ... pass them."
The three candidates are competing to replace Democrat Carl Rollins, who resigned in the spring to take the top job with the state student financial aid agency. The district, encompassing some of Kentucky's scenic horse country, includes Woodford County and parts of Fayette and Franklin counties.
Democrats far outnumber Republicans in the district. But Woodford County, where most of the district's voters live, narrowly backed Republican Andy Barr in his victory over Democratic incumbent Ben Chandler in last year's congressional race in central Kentucky.
Both major-party candidates drew high-profile supporters during the two-month campaign.
At a pre-election rally Monday, Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear urged Kay supporters to flock to the polls.
"Let's make sure we turn this out because our state must have people like James Kay to work with me ... and others to move this state forward," Beshear said.
Kay stressed the need for lawmakers to support education to prepare Kentucky students to compete for jobs.
"I'm more energized today than I was when ... we first started this race," he said.
Other prominent Democrats who pitched in during the campaign were Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, state Auditor Adam Edelen and several state lawmakers.
State Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, a Republican, said at a recent rally for Crews: "We need to have Lyen Crews in Frankfort. We're so close to taking the majority in Frankfort. When we take the majority, this will be a better state." Several Republican state lawmakers also have joined Crews on the campaign trail.
Logsdon said Democrats are determined to deny the GOP its long-sought goal of claiming complete control of the General Assembly.
"We've seen what's happened in other states when the Republicans have taken over the legislature," he said. "You've seen a war on public education, you've seen a war on women, you've seen a war on workers. We're not going to let that happen in Kentucky."
Crews cited his experience as a certified public accountant, saying he would have the expertise to help shape any proposal to revamp the state's tax system, and to warn lawmakers of any "unintended consequences" from changing the tax code.
Kay outpaced his opponents in fundraising, taking in $132,649 through June 10. Crews had raised $68,806 through the same period, and Hack had garnered $23,467.
Crews, however, benefited from the independent Republican State Leadership Committee, which reported spending more than $177,000 in the race.
Hack was an agricultural official in former Gov. Paul Patton's administration. He told the Lexington Herald-Leader that he was confident of winning because "there is an overwhelming negative response to the obscene amounts of money being spent by the two parties, and I think that will favor me."