Congressman John Yarmuth and Mayor Greg Fischer cruised to re-election, winning over 60 percent of the vote in their bids for another term | Photos via campaigns

Democratic candidates in Jefferson County won big races in Tuesday’s elections, with Mayor Greg Fischer and Congressman John Yarmuth cruising to blowout victories in their re-election bids, the party flipping two Metro Council seats away from Republicans to build a 19-7 supermajority, and the defeat of two GOP incumbents in the state House.

Despite this Democratic momentum in Louisville and their improved performance in the eastern suburbs of the county, the results in the rest of the state proved to be more of the same, as Republicans wound up losing only a net total of two seats in the state House and picked up a seat in the state Senate — solidifying their supermajorities in the Kentucky General Assembly and their stronghold on Frankfort.

Here is a rundown of the trends and gains made by Democrats in Louisville, in addition to a few areas where Republicans held off strong challenges and managed to gain ground.

Fischer dominates Leet, even in her own council district

While Fischer was certainly considered a favorite to win re-election to his third term over Republican Councilwoman Angela Leet, the incredibly wide margin of that victory came as a surprise to some.

Fischer tallied 61.3 percent of the vote to Leet’s 36.5 percent, winning by a comfortable margin of nearly 72,000 votes.

To add insult to injury, Fischer actually blew out Leet in her own suburban council district, as he won 24 out of 27 precincts in District 7 and won roughly 58 percent of the vote to Leet’s 40 percent, by a margin of 2,808 votes.

The ease of his victory comes despite an aggressively negative campaign by Leet that blamed him for the city’s recent rise in homicides and overdoses, in addition to accusing him of covering up the sexual assault of women and children by former LMPD officers. Fischer, on the other hand, chose not to counter with attacks of his own, sticking to his message of touting the economic momentum of Louisville under his leadership.

Fischer’s success in the eastern suburbs of Louisville is reflected not just in his victory within Leet’s council district, but in the following map of precincts that shows Fischer beating Leet in a large swath of the northeastern part of the county that often is won by Republicans.

Mayor Greg Fischer dominated most precincts in Jefferson County besides those in the southwest and southeast (Blue = Fischer win, Red = Leet win) | Courtesy of Kentucky Secretary of State

Though Fischer’s campaign outraised and outspent Leet, her most recent KREF filing shows that she did raise and likely spent over $700,000 in her general election campaign. Her loss may sting a little more, considering that she personally contributed over $610,000 to her campaign, including at least $403,000 in the last two months of the campaign.

Yarmuth rolls up Glisson

Despite facing his most well-funded challenger in nearly a decade, Yarmuth actually defeated Republican Vicki Yates Brown Glisson by a margin almost identical to his win in 2016 over a candidate that spent almost no money and ran a mostly non-existent campaign.

Yarmuth picked up 62.1 percent of the vote in the district that excludes only about a dozen precincts on the eastern edge of Jefferson County. He won roughly the same number of precincts that he did in 2016, adding nearly a dozen wins in the eastern suburbs but losing roughly the same number in the south that he had won previously.

Blue = Precincts won by Yarmuth, Red = Precincts won by Glisson | Courtesy of Kentucky Secretary of State

According to her most recent campaign filing, Glisson — who resigned from her position in the Bevin administration to mount a challenge against Yarmuth — had raised and was likely to have spent well over $700,000 dollars in the race, which is a similar amount to what Yarmuth ultimately spent.

Yarmuth has now surpassed 62 percent of the vote in his last four re-election campaigns and appears to be a lock to win an eighth term in two years if he so chooses.

The congressman may now be more likely to stick around for more terms, considering that the Democrats took back the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives and Yarmuth will now take the very prominent position of chair of the House Budget Committee.

Democrats expand Metro Council majority

Metro Council’s 17-9 Democratic majority will grow even larger after Tuesday’s results, as the party’s candidates won an open seat to replace Councilwoman Leet and knocked off longtime Republican incumbent Glen Stuckel in the northeastern suburbs that include Anchorage.

Democrat Paula McCraney handily defeated Republican Kent Hall by over 1,100 votes in the District 7 race to replace Leet, picking up 53.9 percent of the vote. This seat has been held by a Republican since the city-county merger began in 2002, as Leet was preceded by Ken Fleming for six terms — who himself lost his re-election bid to the state House on Tuesday.

Blue = Metro Council District 7 precincts won by McCraney, Red = Precincts won by Hall | Courtesy of Kentucky Secretary of State

Stuckel has served in the District 17 seat since the merger and rarely faced a strong challenge, but Democratic candidates Markus Winkler mounted a strong campaign and won by over 1,300 votes, picking up 54.9 percent.

Blue = Metro Council District 17 precincts won by Winkler, Red = Precincts won by Stuckel | Courtesy of Kentucky Secretary of State

Metro Council will also see a host of new Democratic faces next year who won their races to hold seats for their party, replacing a number of longtime incumbents who decided not to run for re-election this year or lost their primary in May.

Donna Purvis, who defeated longtime incumbent Councilwoman Cheri Bryant Hamilton in the Democratic primary, breezed to victory in District 5 by winning over 92 percent of the vote. So too did Nicole George in District 21, who defeated Councilman Vitalis Lanshima by a wide margin in the Democratic primary and won 70 percent of the vote over her Republican opponent on Tuesday.

Democrat Kevin Triplett won 74 percent of the vote in District 15 to replace the retiring Councilwoman Marianne Butler, while Republican Anthony Piagentini won 57 percent of the vote in District 19, where he will fill the shoes of outgoing Republican Councilwoman Julie Denton.

Two other races were highly competitive, but their seats will remain in the hands of the same party. In the District 13 race to replace retiring Democratic Councilwoman Vicki Aubrey Welch, Mark Fox just barely edged Republican candidate Jennifer Alexander by 60 votes in the South End district — an area of the city that did not trend as “blue” as the eastern and northeastern suburbs on Tuesday.

In District 11, incumbent Republican Councilman Kevin Kramer — who has served in the seat since the merger — was able to fend off Democratic challenger Derek Ashcraft in a relatively close race for the eastern district that includes Jeffersontown, winning 53 percent of the vote. Both Fischer and Yarmuth won in this district, where Democrats have a large advantage over Republicans in registered voters.

Democrats will also welcome newcomer Keisha Dorsey in District 3 — where Councilwoman Mary Woolridge chose not to run for re-election — who won a contested primary in May but did not have a general election opponent on Tuesday.

Democrats take out Moffett and Fleming, but can’t add more General Assembly pickups 

Democrats were optimistic that they could knock off up to a half-dozen Republican incumbents in state legislative races in Louisville’s eastern suburban districts on Tuesday, but they only managed to unseat two: Rep. Phil Moffett, one of the most conservative members of the state House, and Rep. Ken Fleming, who formerly served on Metro Council.

Moffett was defeated by JCPS special education teacher Tina Bojanowski, who won 53.6 percent of the vote in House District 32 and led by nearly 1,400 votes. Fleming was ousted by Democrat Maria Sorolis in a rematch from their 2016 race in District 48 in the northeastern corner of Louisville, with Sorolis avenging that blowout loss to win by nearly 800 votes.

However, Democratic candidates came up short in a number of races against Republicans incumbent that were considered vulnerable.

Rep. Jason Nemes of House District 33 held on to re-election by just over 400 votes, as his Democratic challenger Rob Walker actually won more votes in Jefferson County — encompassing most of the district — but Nemes’ total in conservative Oldham County put him over the edge. Rep. Kevin Bratcher also held on in the southeastern District 29, defeating Democrat Ronel Brown with 53 percent of the vote.

Democrats also had hoped to challenge three Republican incumbents in the state Senate who represented districts that included Louisville’s eastern suburbs but came up empty in each race. Sen. Julie Raque Adams held onto her District 36 seat by winning 53 percent of the vote — a close race despite her campaign spending over $200,000 on her race, far more than the roughly $10,000 spent by her Democratic challenger Sheri Donahue.

Republican Sen. Ernie Harris also defeated his Democratic challenger Karen Berg by winning 52 percent of the vote, though he lost by a wide margin in the district’s Jefferson County precincts, which make up just over half of District 26. Sen. Paul Hornback also held off a challenge by Democrat Dave Suetholz in District 20, winning 57 percent of the vote despite his opponent spending over $100,000 in the race.

Democratic candidates were able to flip a number of state House seats and knock off four Republican incumbents outside of Jefferson County, but they also lost a number of seats to Republicans, eventually coming to a net gain of just two seats in the chamber. That will slightly decrease the Republicans’ supermajority of that chamber from 63-37 to 61-39, to go along with the party’s dominant 28-10 advantage in the state Senate.

Coming into next year’s gubernatorial race — with the deadline to file in that race coming up in just over two months — these results may take the wind out of the sails of their hopes to take back the governor’s mansion from Matt Bevin, as they hoped that channeling the backlash to his comments about teachers’ and his controversial public pension bill would lead to more legislative victories.

Turnout normal in Jefferson County

Despite reports of polling locations in Louisville being busier than usual, 2018 wound up being a relatively normal year for voter turnout in a midterm election. According to records from the Kentucky Secretary of State, 48.7 percent of registered voters in Jefferson County showed up to vote on Tuesday, which is slightly more than the 47.2 percent who turned out in 2014 and less than the 52.5 percent that voted in 2010.

Every vote counts

In case you didn’t know that your vote matters, three tight races in the state House on Tuesday are here to remind you.

In House District 27, Republican challenger Nancy Tate unseated longtime incumbent Democratic Rep. Jeff Greer by just six votes.

In House District 96, Democratic challenger Kathy Hinkle unseated GOP Rep. Jill York by an even smaller margin of five votes.

And to take the cake, Democratic challenger Jim Glenn defeated House District 13 incumbent Rep. D.J. Johnson by just one vote.

One. Vote.

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Joe Sonka
Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]