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Three GOP incumbents in Kentucky legislature defeated in primary

Republican Representative Killian Timoney gestures during committee hearing.
Legislative Research Commission
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Legislative Research Commission
Republican Rep. Killian Timoney, of Nicholasville, presents bill that would ban "gray machines" during a committee hearing.

Rep. Killian Timoney lost by a wide margin in his Lexington district, despite supportive PACs spending heavily to keep the moderate Republican in office.

Three Republican incumbents in the Kentucky General Assembly were knocked off in the primary election Tuesday, including a Lexington moderate who was backed by nearly $300,000 of ads from political action committees.

Lexington state Rep. Killian Timoney was defeated by a wide margin in his bid for a third term by Thomas Jefferson, who beat the incumbent by 44 percentage points.

Timoney was one of the candidates backed by the Commonwealth Conservatives Coalition, a federal super PAC that bought roughly $1 million of ads to back nine candidates from the establishment wing of the party. The PAC spent more than $250,000 on TV ads touting Timoney’s conservative credentials.

However, Jefferson and several PACs from the “liberty” wing of the GOP — which often take a harder line against government spending and social conservative issues than the leadership of the party — hit Timoney with ads of their own, highlighting his votes against bills to ban transgender girls from girls sports and ban gender-affirming medical care for transgender youth.

In a statement on his victory, Jefferson said the central Kentucky district “has spoken loud and clear that our family values matter.”

“I was elected to push back against the radical left agenda of attacking the rights of parents and targeting children with explicit content,” Jefferson said. “I am proud to say that it is my intent to go to Frankfort not to be a friend to special interests but instead to fight for conservative values.”

In western Kentucky, seven-term incumbent Rep. Richard Heath lost a surprising upset to Kimberly Holloway, a small business owner who ran on a small government platform. She finished with 52%, despite her campaign only spending $15,000 within two weeks of the election and no support from any PACs.

The third GOP incumbent to lose her primary race was Sen. Adrienne Southworth of Lawrenceburg, as liberty-aligned challenger Aaron Reed won a close race over Shelby County farmer Ed Gallrein.

Reed picked up 39%, outpacing Gallrein by just more than 100 votes. Southworth received just 22% of the vote, losing her home county of Anderson.

Reed and Southworth were supported with spending by two different liberty-wing PACs, while Gallrein received support by a PAC funded by the horse industry and the Senate Republican Caucus Campaign Committee.

Another Republican incumbent who nearly lost her primary against a liberty-aligned challenger was Rep. Kim Moser, a four-term incumbent from northern Kentucky who chairs the House Health Services committee. Moser won by just 84 votes over real estate agent Karen Campbell.

Just like the Timoney race, Campbell and aligned PACs hit Moser with attack ads highlighting her vote against the bill to ban gender-affirming medical care for transgender minors and her comment on the House floor saying Kentuckians are not “complete Neanderthals.”

However, Moser was able to hold on, in part due to at least $81,000 of ads purchased by supportive PACs in the final weeks of the campaign.

Commonwealth Conservative Coalition and several other PACs from the establishment wing of the GOP also spent heavily to defeat five House incumbents from the liberty faction, but came up empty. In northern Kentucky, Reps. Steven Doan, Marianne Proctor and Felicia Rabourn defeated their challengers by a wide margin, as did Rep. Candy Massaroni of Bardstown. Rep. Bill Wesley of Ravenna also won a close race, beating challenger Darrell Billings by six percentage points.

Also in northern Kentucky, liberty candidate TJ Roberts easily defeated C. Ed Massey by 48 percentage points — an even larger margin of defeat than Massey’s loss in the 2022 primary, when the former House incumbent first lost his seat.

Liberty-aligned PACs also spent $40,000 on ads to defeat Rep. Michael Meredith in his Bowling Green district, but the seven-term incumbent easily dispatched challenger Kelcey Rock with 76% of the vote.

State government and politics reporting is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Joe is the enterprise statehouse reporter for Kentucky Public Radio, a collaboration including Louisville Public Media, WEKU-Lexington, WKU Public Radio and WKMS-Murray. Email Joe at jsonka@lpm.org.
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