Kentucky GOP overtakes Democrats in voter registration
FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky’s Republican Party, already dominant at the ballot box, has achieved another long-sought milestone, overtaking the Democratic Party in statewide voter registration.
The Kentucky State Board of Elections announced Friday that the number of registered Republican voters stands at 1,612,060, compared with 1,609,569 registered Democrats.
“After a century and a half, the birthplace of Lincoln has finally aligned with the party of Lincoln,” Republican Secretary of State Michael Adams said.
It culminates the GOP’s long trajectory toward eclipsing Democrats’ historic advantage in registered voters in the Bluegrass State. Even though it seemed inevitable that Republicans would gain the upper hand, given the trends, the party’s leaders hailed it as a historic achievement.
“Today is a day I never thought would happen,” said U.S. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, regarded as the main architect of the GOP’s rise in his home state.
McConnell, the longest-serving senator in Kentucky history, attributed his party’s latest achievement to decades of “hard work and grassroots efforts,” adding that “it’s just the beginning.”
When McConnell was first elected to the Senate in 1984, narrowly defeating incumbent Walter “Dee” Huddleston, the state had 1.3 million registered Democrats and 525,060 Republicans. Republicans chipped away at the registration gap over the years.
Their electoral successes in Kentucky have become lopsided — first in federal races and eventually in statehouse campaigns as many conservative Democrats crossed over to back GOP candidates.
Republicans currently hold Kentucky’s two U.S. Senate seats, five of six congressional seats, supermajorities in the state legislature and most of the statewide constitutional offices. It reflects the GOP’s dominance across rural Kentucky.
“We are living a historic moment in the commonwealth,” said Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, who is seeking a third term from Kentucky in this year’s election. “The majority of people in Kentucky realize that their beliefs are best represented by the Republican Party.”
The state’s top political job — the governorship — is held by Democrat Andy Beshear.
State Democratic Chair Colmon Elridge didn’t mention the registration shift away from his party in a statement Friday. Instead, he stressed his party’s agenda “fighting for working families and responding to the urgent needs of our communities” while touting Beshear’s job-creation record. Elridge blasted Republicans for blocking “common-sense proposals” such as expanded gaming and medical marijuana legalization.
Beshear has received high-job performance ratings in recent polling, but the governor is gearing up for a tough reelection fight next year. Several prominent Republicans already are running for governor and the party’s list of candidates could grow.
Asked how Republican registration gains would affect his reelection prospects, the governor noted there’s little difference between the parties’ numbers.
“What it means is we’ve got to get along,” Beshear said Friday. “We ought to stop trying to fight to move the state right or left but to just move it forward. And to focus on things that truly impact people’s lives — like good jobs, a great public education and access to health care.”
Beshear is expected to make his management of the state’s economy a cornerstone of his campaign message. Kentucky last year posted records for job creation and investments and recently posted its lowest-ever unemployment rates. The state’s two largest-ever economic development announcements — related to battery production for electric vehicles — have come during his term.
Republicans point to Beshear’s policy disagreements with the GOP-dominated legislature on such issues as taxes and abortion. And they’re trying to link the governor to Democratic President Joe Biden as rampant inflation squeezes household budgets.
While touting his party’s priorities of “limited government and personal responsibility,” Adams noted that registered Republicans make up a plurality, not a majority, in Kentucky, since more than 300,000 voters aren’t registered with either of the two major parties.
“To win statewide elections, and then to govern effectively, Republican candidates must appeal beyond our base to the 55% of voters who are not Republicans,” he said.