Republicans, Democrats finalize candidate lineups for Kentucky elections in 2024

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky‘s congressional and legislative campaigns came into focus Friday as Republicans and Democrats completed candidate lineups for 2024 elections lacking a marquee race for statewide office unlike last year, when the state was in the limelight with its hotly contested gubernatorial contest.

All six Kentucky congressmen — five Republicans and one Democrat — filed for reelection. They all will be challenged, either in the spring primary or the November general election.

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Democrats again failed to field legislative candidates across swaths of rural Kentucky, while a number of Republican state lawmakers will encounter primary challenges. It reflects the diminished Democratic brand in much of rural Kentucky and the GOP’s continued growth, leading to competitive primaries. Republicans have amassed supermajorities in both the Kentucky House and Senate.

“Kentucky continues to trend toward the Republican Party,” GOP House Speaker David Osborne told reporters several hours before the candidate filing deadline. “Therefore more and more seats are determined in the Republican primary.”

Candidates, political strategists and reporters clustered outside the secretary of state’s office in the final hours before the deadline. Popcorn was offered as a snack. When the deadline arrived, Secretary of State Michael Adams ceremoniously closed the door to the office where candidates file their paperwork.

It lacked the drama of the deadline a year ago, when former Republican Gov. Matt Bevin teased a bid for a political comeback. Bevin arrived at the statehouse, gave a speech to a throng of media and then left without filing. Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, who ousted Bevin in 2019, went on to win reelection over GOP challenger Daniel Cameron in one of the most closely watched elections of 2023.

In 2024, congressional and statehouse candidates will run in districts drawn by the state’s GOP-dominated legislature. Democrats challenged the maps for congressional and state House districts, but Kentucky’s Supreme Court upheld the boundaries in a ruling last month. The legislature convened its 60-day session this week, and crafting the next two-year state budget will be at the top of the agenda.

In the presidential contest, President Joe Biden will be on the primary ballot in Kentucky along with fellow Democrats Dean Phillips and Marianne Williamson. On the GOP side, former President Donald Trump will be on the Kentucky ballot in a field that includes Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, Chris Christie and Vivek Ramaswamy. Trump easily carried Kentucky in the last two general elections for president.

In legislative races, Republican incumbents drawing primary challengers ranged from relative newcomers to veteran state Reps. Kimberly Poore Moser and Michael Meredith who lead House committees.

With their lineup now complete, Republicans said they enter this year’s campaigns with momentum on their side, despite losing the state’s marquee gubernatorial election last year.

“From the candidate filings, one thing is clear: there is more energy within the Republican Party than ever,” state GOP Chairman Robert Benvenuti said in a statement.

Democrats, hoping to cut into the GOP’s lopsided legislative majorities, said they targeted suburban and rural districts where Beshear ran well last year. State Democratic Party Chair Colmon Elridge offered a preview of his party’s agenda heading into the campaigns.

“This November, public education, healthcare access, infrastructure, the opportunity to lift everyone up and move Kentucky forward, all of that is on the line and the Kentucky Democratic Party intends to fight for it,” Elridge said in a statement.

Seeking new terms from Kentucky’s congressional delegation will be Republican Reps. James Comer, Brett Guthrie, Thomas Massie, Hal Rogers and Andy Barr, as well as Democratic Rep. Morgan McGarvey.

The lead up to the filing deadline was dominated by announcements from some prominent state lawmakers that they would not seek reelection in 2024. Among the lawmakers stepping down after this year are Republican Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, GOP state Rep. Kevin Bratcher and state Rep. Derrick Graham, the top-ranking Democrat in the House.

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