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Ky. legislative primaries set stage for Nov. races

May 20, 2014 Updated: May 20, 2014 at 10:32 pm

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — State Sen. Sara Beth Gregory was defeated by a fellow Republican on Tuesday as primary election voters in Kentucky set the lineup of candidates who will wage a district-by-district fight in the fall to determine whether power in the General Assembly remains divided.

With the GOP's majority in the state Senate secure, the focus in coming months will be whether Democrats retain control of the Kentucky House amid a strong push by Republicans to consolidate their legislative influence.

Democratic state Rep. Keith Hall was defeated by attorney Chris Harris, according to unofficial returns late Tuesday.

Although Gregory and Hall were defeated, many legislative incumbents defeated challengers from within their own parties.

On the Senate side, Gregory lost a hard-fought campaign against challenger Max Wise in the 16th Senate District. Both are staunch conservatives who oppose abortion, same-sex marriage and the federal health care overhaul.

No Democrat filed for the seat in the solidly Republican district.

Gregory served in the House before joining the Senate. She won a special election in 2013 to serve the remainder of David Williams' term after the former Senate president resigned to accept an appointment to a judgeship.

In the House, Democrats have seen their historic majority dwindle to a 54-46 advantage. The slim margin gives Republicans perhaps their best chance in decades to win a majority and set the agenda for the legislative chamber that gets first crack at crafting the state budget every two years.

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, a potential GOP presidential candidate in 2016, vowed to put his political weight behind his fellow Kentucky Republicans running for the state House. After spending decades in the shadows of Democrats, the GOP has "a realistic shot at taking over the Kentucky House," Paul said in a video message to Republicans gathered for U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell's primary election victory.

"Sen. McConnell and I will leave no stone unturned until conservatives rule again in Washington and in Frankfort," Paul said.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo predicted Democrats will still be in charge of the House when lawmakers reconvene for their regular session in January.

"We have a lot in our favor," the Prestonsburg Democrat said. "We'll be well funded, we'll have (U.S. Senate candidate) Alison Lundergan Grimes at the top of the ticket and we will be working closely with Governor Beshear to push forward an agenda that will create jobs and improve our schools."

State GOP Chairman Steve Robertson said both parties "are going to be focused like a laser beam" on Kentucky House races. "It's going to be a top priority for both of us."

But first voters had to choose nominees in multiple contested primaries for legislative seats. In most cases, both Republican and Democratic incumbents moved on to the general election.

One Democrat who lost a tough fight was Hall, who heads the House Tourism Development and Energy Committee. The Phelps lawmaker was defeated by Chris Harris, an attorney and Pike County Fiscal Court member, in the 93rd District.

Hall touted his ability to deliver state funding for his eastern corner of Kentucky. Harris raised ethics as a campaign issue.

Hall was fined $2,000 by the Legislative Ethics Commission in 2011 after one of his companies received more than $171,000 in contracts for sewer projects. Hall was reprimanded for voting for a state budget that included money to pay for the sewer work.

No Republican filed for the 93rd District seat.

Meanwhile, former gubernatorial candidate Phil Moffett defeated Shellie May for the Republican nomination for an open state House seat in Jefferson County. Moffett is a tea party activist who lost to then-Senate President David Williams in the 2011 GOP primary for governor. Democrat Ashley Miller was unopposed in the district's Democratic primary. The Republican incumbent, Rep. Julie Raque Adams, is running for the state Senate.

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