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Kim Holloway says primary upset over GOP incumbent for Ky. House was DIY effort

Republican state House candidate Kim Holloway
Provided
Republican state House candidate Kim Holloway

Kim Holloway was able to defeat longtime GOP incumbent Rep. Richard Heath despite having no PAC support and little funding.

Kim Holloway has never held a public office and could not even afford a campaign manager or consultant, but that did not stop her from pulling off the most surprising upsets in Kentucky’s primary election this week.

Holloway defeated longtime state Rep. Richard Heath of Mayfield in the Republican primary in a close race, winning by four percentage points and less than 200 votes. With no Democratic candidate filing to run for the office, she is virtually assured to take the seat in Frankfort in January.

Heath is a well-known figure in far west Kentucky, having served as the chair of the House Agriculture committee. He also ran in 2015 and 2023 for the GOP nomination to be the state commissioner of agriculture and was competitive in both races, picking up more than 114,000 last spring.

But that name recognition, as well as Heath’s financial advantage in the race, did not prove to be enough against Holloway’s challenge — surprising even her.

“I would say that we were certainly surprised with the outcome,” Holloway said. “We knew what we were up against, but we were hopeful that our hard work would pay off, and it did.”

“This entire campaign was as grassroots as it gets.”

Two weeks ahead of the election, Holloway’s campaign had only reported spending $15,000. Unlike Heath — who had political action committees spending at least $43,000 on ads for him and $9,700 on direct contributions to his campaign — Holloway had no PAC support at all.

Most serious candidates running for an office of this magnitude pay for a campaign consultant, if not a campaign manager, but Holloway says she couldn’t afford one.

“I spoke with (a campaign manager) last fall,” Holloway said. “And I just knew that it was not going to be in the budget. So I just worked with what I had.”

“I hate to take all the credit, but I did do nearly all of it myself,” Holloway said. “I knocked on almost all the doors myself, designed my own graphics and mailers. I wrote my own scripts, wrote my own thank you notes, I take my own phone calls, answer my own text messages and emails.”

Holloway said it wasn’t just hard work, but also the length of the work that made her victory possible.

She filed to run against Heath in the 2022 primary, but one of his supporters successfully challenged her candidacy in court, noting one of the signatories to her candidate filing was not a registered Republican — the same issue that has put Democratic Rep. Nima Kulkarni’s candidacy in jeopardy this year.

Holloway was deemed ineligible, but stayed on as a write-in candidate for the office in the general election that year, picking up 2,300 votes and 17%.

“I've been running for this office for about two and a half years,” she said. “I'm just a nobody who saw a need that needed to be filled and approached the entire process with humility.”

Her campaign platform and messaging strongly resembled that of other candidates from the upstart “liberty” wing of the GOP, stressing limiting government spending and regulations.

Holloway said she would “absolutely” be a part of the informal liberty caucus in Frankfort, which currently has at least a half dozen members. Also joining the caucus next year could be Thomas Jefferson, who defeated moderate Rep. Killian Timoney of Lexington in the GOP primary, though he must first win a competitive general election race in the Democrat-leaning district.

“I'm looking forward to getting up there and working to reduce the size of government and return power to the people,” Holloway said.

She said there was “mudslinging” against her in the race via negative mailers, which highlighted that she changed her party registration to Libertarian in 2020 to protest pandemic restrictions. She said the attacks also “questioned my devotion to President Trump, which was not accurate.”

“I tried to focus on community and state issues, as opposed to sensationalizing federal level issues,” she said.

Holloway made an issue of a lawsuit filed by Heath’s wife and granddaughter related to a serious 2017 car accident they were in, as they attempted to sue a local business for $17 million for allegedly obscuring a stop sign. The jury ruled in favor of the business, with Holloway saying the lawsuit hurt Heath’s standing in the community.

In a statement, Heath said it was an honor to serve and he is proud of what he’s accomplished for his constituents, “including lowering the income tax, protecting children and the unborn, preserving our constitutional rights, and creating a program that will leverage hundreds of millions in federal and private monies for local communities.”

“While I am disappointed by yesterday’s results, primaries provide a whole new set of challenges,” Heath said. “I can still look back on my legislative career and know that I put Graves and McCracken counties first.”

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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