State Watch

Dem wins Kentucky state House seat in district Trump won by 49 points


Kentucky Democrats on Tuesday reclaimed a rural district in the state House of Representatives that went heavily for President Trump in 2016.

Linda Belcher (D), a former state legislator who lost her seat in the Trump landslide in Kentucky, reclaimed the Bullitt County district by a more than 2-to-1 margin, defeating her GOP opponent Rebecca Johnson 68 percent to 32 percent.


The Democrat had lost her seat in 2016 by just 150 votes, or less than 1 percentage point, even as Trump carried the district with 72 percent of the vote compared to Hillary Clinton’s 23 percent. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) also won the district in 2016 with 64 percent of the vote.

Tuesday’s special election in the state’s House District 49 was held to replace former state Rep. Dan Johnson (R), who killed himself in December. Johnson, a pastor at a local church, had been accused of sexual abuse against a member of his congregation. He strongly denied the accusations, though he killed himself just days after local media reported the allegations.

Johnson’s widow, Rebecca Johnson, said she would run to replace her husband less than 24 hours after his death.

Belcher previously held the seat from 2008 to 2012 and from 2014 to 2016, when she lost to Dan Johnson.

Her victory Tuesday is the latest in a series of Democratic victories in special elections across the country over the past year.

The Kentucky district is the 18th formerly Republican-held district to fall into Democratic hands in a special election since Trump won in 2016, a growing trend Democrats see as proof of their party’s momentum heading into the midterms. In 2018 alone, Democrats have won Republican-held state legislative districts in Missouri, Wisconsin and Florida.

“Flipping a seat that Trump won by such a considerable margin in 2016 shows the sea change happening across America in 2018,” said Jessica Post, the executive director of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. “Voters are speaking up about what they want to see in their elected leaders and volunteering their time and money to change the election maps.”

Republicans dismissed the significance of Tuesday’s results, given the odd turns of events that led to the special election in the first place.
“Tonight’s special election has been anything but normal from the beginning and offers little resemblance to what we should expect in November. Turnout was low, even by special election standards, and the impact of recent events hung over the race, clouding the outcome,” said Tres Watson, a Kentucky Republican Party spokesman.
In some cases, like the election in Kentucky, the Democratic candidate has vastly outperformed both Clinton’s 2016 results and the typical Democrat running in local elections. Though Kentucky has a long tradition of electing Democrats even in districts where Republican presidential candidates cruise, Belcher’s performance is the largest improvement over Clinton’s performance of any special election held since Trump became president.

“When you have great candidates like Linda Belcher, results like tonight’s win are no surprise,” said Rocky Adkins, the Kentucky state House Democratic leader. “Tonight’s victory is also the first step of our journey to take back the Kentucky House of Representatives, and a week from tonight, during the next special election, we intend to take the second step.”

Kentucky Democrats have a lot more than two steps to go before they get within shouting distance of control of the state House. The chamber — controlled by Democrats for a century before Republicans took over after the 2016 elections — now has just 37 Democrats among its 100 members.

Updated: 8:29 p.m.

Tags Dan Johnson Democrats Donald Trump Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Kentucky Rand Paul
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