By RONNIE ELLIS / CNHI News Service
Frankfort – Republican Sara Beth Gregory, a Monticello attorney and state representative, easily won a special election Tuesday to represent the 16th state Senate District, outpolling Democrat Bill Conn by a 4-1 margin.
Gregory, 30, beat Conn, 30, a first-time candidate and Williamsburg Independent Schools teacher, with 6,244 votes to Conn’s 1,440.
The unofficial vote totals indicate a turnout of only 10.6 percent, perhaps not surprising for a special election right after a presidential election and one week before Christmas.
The 16th District covers six counties along the state’s southern border: Monroe, Cumberland, Clinton, Wayne, McCreary and Whitley counties. The district is about 70 percent Republican registration, a strong advantage for Gregory which Conn wasn’t able to overcome even in a low-turnout special election.
The seat was vacated by former Senate President David Williams of Burkesville who resigned his seat to accept appointment as a Circuit Judge.
Gregory’s win further strengthens Republicans’ grip on the state Senate where they enjoy a 23-14 margin over Democrats with one independent who caucuses with Republicans.
Unofficial results from the State Board of Elections at 8:15 p.m. EST showed Gregory with 6,244 votes to Conn’s 1,440, giving Gregory 81 percent of the vote.
“Well, I think that’s a pretty resounding mandate that the people of this district favored my conservative positions,” Gregory said. “I’m very honored by the outcome, and I look forward to the privilege of serving the people of the 16th District.”
Gregory won every county – including Conn’s home county of Whitley by nearly a 2-1 margin: 1,444 to 768. She won her home county of Wayne 1,824 to 265. Gregory won Clinton County 785-112; Cumberland County 558-70; McCreary County 879 to 127; and Monroe County 754-98.
Conn called Gregory and conceded around 7:40 p.m. and then addressed his supporters gathered at Dino’s Restaurant in Corbin.
“I’m very proud of the race we ran,” Conn said. “We can hold our heads high because we ran a clean race. I wish Ms. Gregory the very best. I’m very proud the people of the 16th District were given a choice.”
T.J. Litafik, Conn’s consultant, said Conn faced an almost insurmountable task trying to overcome the huge Republican registration advantage and the power of Republican establishment figures supporting Gregory.
“But he worked it as hard as anyone could considering the limited resources he had,” Litafik said. He said Conn had “caught the bug” and might make another race in the future.
“That’s yet to be determined,” Conn said. “I’m expecting our first son in February and right now that is my only priority.”
Republican Senate Majority Leader and soon to be Senate President Robert Stivers of Manchester said Gregory’s election gives the party a super-majority and reflects growing Republican sentiment in Kentucky.
“We felt confident she would win because of her abilities and the environment we are in,” Stivers said. “Her success is further proof that this state favors the policies that the Kentucky State Senate espouses.”
Gregory’s victory means there is now a vacancy in 52nd state House District in parts of McCrery, Pulaski, and Wayne counties.
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at email@example.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.