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A historic political momentIt happened Friday in Kentucky when Secretary of State Michael Adams announced that Republicans had overtaken Democrats as the state’s top party in terms of registered voters.
Through June 30, there were 1,612,060 registered GOP voters to 1,609,569 Democrats. A decade ago, Democrats held the majority of voters and nearly 525,000 registrations.
In a statement, Adams — himself a Republican — paid tribute to Abraham Lincoln, a Kentucky native and the first Republican president, to mark the occasion.
“After a century and a half, Lincoln’s birthplace has finally aligned with Lincoln’s party,” he said. “Today is a great day for all of us in the Grand Old Party who have worked so hard for so long to advance our goals of limited government and personal accountability.”
The rise of the Republican Party is a combination of several factors, according to Michon Lindstrom, the communications director for the secretary of state’s office. More than 126,000 dead voters have been removed from rolls since Adams took office in January 2020, but Lindstrom also told The Center Square that the office is seeing an increase in voters changing affiliation. Additionally, she noted that registration efforts that had lagged during the pandemic have accelerated in recent months.
The figures show a slight discrepancy in the voter rolls, with the two parties each holding around 45% of registered voters. However, the numbers also belie a shift that has taken place in Kentucky politics — and national politics, too — for nearly 40 years.
While the GOP had always been a competitive party despite the Democratic advantage in voter registration, Mitch McConnell’s 1984 victory over incumbent U.S. Senator Walter “Dee” Huddleston sparked the chain of events that led the Republican Party to become the ruling party of the state.
In a statement through the State Party, McConnell said Friday was a day he never thought would come. He credited “grassroots efforts” to overtake the Democrats’ longstanding advantage.
“This is great news for the Commonwealth, but it’s just the start,” McConnell said.
The last Kentucky Democrat to win a U.S. Senate race was then U.S. Senator Wendell Ford in 1992. He retired after serving that term. The 1994 Republican Revolution had its origins when Ron Lewis won a special election in May of that year to fill the remainder of the term of the late U.S. Representative William Natcher.
In 1991, Kentucky Democrats held four of the state’s seven congressional seats. After the 1994 general election, the GOP won four of the six seats. Since 2012, Republicans have controlled five of those seats.
Bill Clinton was the last Democrat to win Kentucky in a presidential election in 1996.
“This didn’t happen overnight, and we didn’t do it alone,” Kentucky Republican Party Chairman Mac Brown said Friday. “This day has been in the making for decades and is only made possible by the hard work and effort of so many people.”
In 2000, the Kentucky State Senate switched to the Republican Party, and currently the GOP holds 30 of the 38 seats in the chamber.
And Republicans finally took control of the State House from Democrats, who had held a majority since 1922, after the 2016 election.
The only state office seat Democrats hold is the governor’s office. However, a growing slate of GOP candidates are seeking to challenge incumbent Governor Andy Beshear and hope to become the state’s third Republican governor since 2003.