A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Kentucky Republican Party celebrates shifting tide in voter registration; McConnell given much of credit

By Tom Latek
Kentucky Today

Kentucky Republicans held a celebratory press conference at the State Capitol in Frankfort this week to mark the first time in history that more Kentuckians are registered Republicans than Democrats.

“This is a very historic milestone for the Republican Party of Kentucky,” said RPK Chairman Mac Brown, referring to the numbers recently issued by the State Board of Elections. “That report confirms the Republican Party is Kentucky’s Party. It’s clear that Kentuckians see the Republican Party as the party best equipped to represent them.”

(Graphic from Republican Party of Kentucky; click from larger image)

He acknowledged that the switch didn’t happen overnight, pointing out that when Mitch McConnell was first elected to the U.S. Senate, there were 1.3 million registered Democrats, and just over a half-million Republicans.

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, pointed out one effect of the switch. “The governor is now going to be required to appoint board members to various institutions based on the political registrations. For example, board members at the University of Kentucky will have to be predominantly Republican registration.”

House Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect, said this is about more than just R and D. “Granted that is the scorecard that we are given today, but this is about the people of Kentucky standing up and saying, ‘We want something different. And not only do we want something different, we are something different.’”

Former RPK Chair Ellen Williams said things have come a long way since the 1999 election, when Republicans only had one statewide candidate, Peppy Martin for Governor, who was defeated by Paul Patton. “All the other constitutional offices were Democrats running unopposed.”

Another former GOP Chair, Steve Robertson, noted, as did other speakers, that credit must be given to McConnell. “Early on in his political career, he was astute enough to understand that west Kentucky was the future of the Republican Party, and it really has turned out to be that way. It’s tough to find a legislator west of Bowling Green that is a Democrat, in the Senate or the House.”

According to the latest figures from the State Board of Elections, the number of registered Republican voters in Kentucky now stands at 1,612,060, compared to 1,609,569 registered Democrats, giving Republicans a voter registration advantage of 2,491 voters. A total of 189,727 are registered with other parties, with 137,116 registering as independents.

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