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Republicans surpass Democrats for the first time in Kentucky history

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Ryland Barton
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Registered Republicans outnumber Democrats for the first time in Kentucky history, according to the latest tally from the State Board of Elections.

The development comes after years of Republican electoral victories in Kentucky and dwindling returns for Democrats.

Secretary of State Michael Adams, a Republican, celebrated the news in a statement, saying “the birthplace of Lincoln has finally aligned with the party of Lincoln.”

“Today is a grand day for all of us in the Grand Old Party who have worked so hard for so long to advance our goals of limited government and personal responsibility,” Adams said.

Adams added that to govern effectively, “Republican candidates must appeal beyond our base to the 55% of voters who are not Republicans.”

Republicans still don’t account for a majority of registered voters in the state, just about 45%. Democrats, Independents and members of other political parties make up the other 55%.

There are now 1,612,060 registered Republicans in Kentucky compared to 1,609,569 Democrats, giving the GOP an advantage of 2,491 voters.

Democrats dominated Kentucky politics for most of the 20th century, but Republicans have been increasingly successful at the ballot box.

The GOP currently controls five out of six congressional seats, both U.S. Senate seats, 75% of both state legislative chambers and five of Kentucky’s seven constitutional offices, including attorney general, secretary of state, agriculture commissioner, state auditor and treasurer.

Democrats clung to their party registration advantage for years, though the state hasn’t voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since Bill Clinton in 1996, and hasn’t sent a Democrat to the U.S. Senate since Wendell Ford’s last victory in 1992.

Republican successes were initially reserved to federal elections, but the party began nabbing more state and local elections over the last decade—securing control of the state House of Representatives for the first time in nearly a century in 2016, and controlling most of the statewide constitutional offices for the last two election cycles.

But surprises happen. Despite the GOP momentum, Republican Gov. Matt Bevin lost his reelection bid in 2019 by about 5,000 votes to current Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear. The results were widely attributed to Bevin’s unpopularity, even among Republicans, after years of controversial fights with teachers, French literature majors and his own lieutenant governor.

GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell issued a statement after the news, noting that when he was first elected in 1984, Democrats had 1.3 million voters compared to Republicans’ 525,000.

“Congratulations to all my fellow Republicans who have worked so hard and so long to make this historic day possible,” he said. “This is great news for the Commonwealth but it’s just the beginning.”

Ryland is the state capitol reporter for Kentucky Public Radio. He's covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin. Always looking to put a face to big issues,Ryland'sreporting has taken him to drought-weary towns in West Texas and relocated communities in rural China. He's covered breaking news like the 2014 shooting at Fort Hood Army Base and the aftermath of the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas.
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