GEORGETOWN, Ky. (AP) — The fate of the last legislative chamber in the South still controlled by Democrats is in the hands of a few thousand Kentucky voters in four House districts scattered throughout the state.
Those voters will choose four state representatives Tuesday in a series of special elections created by resignations and two strategic appointments by new Republican Gov. Matt Bevin. Democrats have 50 members and Republicans 46 in the Kentucky House of Representatives, where Democrats have held the majority for nearly a century.
A Republican sweep would mean Democrats would not control the chamber for the first time since 1920 and hand Bevin a trump card as he tries to push through $650 million in state spending cuts.
The closest races appeared to be in Greenup County, near the state line with West Virginia and Ohio, and Scott County in central Kentucky, just north of Lexington.
In Greenup County, former state judge Lew Nicholls faces longtime Republican county commissioner Tony Quillen in an election hinging on union politics. In Scott County, Democrat Chuck Tackett is running anew for a state House seat that has eluded him in a historically Democratic district. He faces Republican Phillip Pratt, the owner of a landscaping business who is making his first run for public office.
On Monday night, Pratt joined Gov. Bevin on the side of a busy road to wave campaign signs at motorists. Pratt spoke to a few dozen supporters at a Georgetown restaurant, including Owen Wilson. The 50-year-old Toyota employee said he had been a Democrat until last week, when he registered as a Republican.
"My thoughts don't align with the Democratic party anymore," Wilson said.
A few miles away, Tackett spoke to a few dozen supporters on the steps of the Scott County Courthouse. Paul Poland, 64, said he's voting for Tackett because as a county commissioner he helped get a stop light at a busy intersection, illustrating the kind of local politics that so often define small House races.
"I would prefer one party not have total control because I think that's asking for too much power," Poland said. "I think it's a good thing if the Democrats can keep control of the House."
Other elections include Democrat Jeffrey Taylor against Republican Walker Thomas in Hopkinsville in western Kentucky and Democrat Bill Noelker versus Republican Daniel Elliott in Casey and Boyle counties.
The polls are open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. local time.
For years, Republicans have verged on House control only to stumble against the state's Democrats, who preach small government and states' rights and are largely indistinguishable from their GOP counterparts. Both parties in Kentucky claim to be "pro-family" and "pro-business."
Regardless of Tuesday's outcome, all 100 House seats are up for re-election in November.