FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - A Grayson lawyer who had strong backing
from the state Democratic Party was elected Tuesday to a vacant
seat in the state Senate.
Democratic Party officials see Robin Webb's victory Tuesday as a step in their broader initiative to try to wrestle majority control of the Senate away from the Republican Party.
With all precincts reporting, unofficial results showed Webb received 8,684 votes. Republican Jack Ditty received 8,402 votes. Independent Guy Gibbons Jr. received 953 votes.
"I'm honored," Webb said Tuesday night. "The opposition party brought everything in the world at me. I feel validated."
Ditty, a political newcomer, thanked his supporters in a concession speech Tuesday night. He didn't rule out running for the seat again in the future.
"We'll have to consider that another day," he said.
It was the second Senate seat Democrats have won this year in special elections. Bowling Green attorney Mike Reynolds won a vacant seat in February over Republican J. Marshall Hughes after the incumbent, Brett Guthrie, was elected to Congress.
Leading up to Tuesday's election, some of Kentucky's best-known Democrats campaigned for Webb, including four former governors, which sent a strong signal that the outcome could have ramifications far beyond the largely rural counties that the winner will represent.
The northeastern Kentucky seat had been in Republican hands for the past 18 years.
Webb, a state representative since 1999, replaces longtime GOP state Sen. Charlie Borders who resigned last month after Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear gave him a position on the Kentucky Public Service Commission that pays more than $100,000 a year.
Beshear congratulated Webb on her victory, saying he looks forward to working with her on significant challenges facing the state.
"The people of the 18th Senate District have spoken with one voice: They want someone who will help create good jobs, ensure quality schools and help provide affordable health care," he said in a written statement. "And I believe they want someone who will work with me in a bipartisan fashion to move our state forward."
With Webb's victory, the Republican majority decreases to 20-17.
State GOP chairman Steve Robertson pointed to the narrow loss - only 282 votes separated Webb from Ditty - to counter any suggestions that the Republican majority is in danger.
"There is no mandate in this election," he said. "We ran against an individual who has been in office for 13 years, and still I'm sure we gave them the ride of their life tonight."
Before the Borders departure, another Republican, Sen. Gary Tapp of Shelbyville, announced that he won't seek re-election next year. If Democrats could pick up the Tapp seat, the GOP's majority would dwindle to 19-18. And if Beshear is able to lure other entrenched Republicans out of the Senate with offers of lucrative positions, the balance of power could be tipped to the Democrats.
Former Gov. Brereton Jones, stumping for Webb last weekend, said the goal is to win enough seats to oust Republican Senate President
David Williams, who has led the opposition to Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear's proposal to legalize casino-style gambling in Kentucky.
The gambling issue was at the heart of the special Senate race. Republicans characterized Webb as a pro-gambling candidate - a portrayal that Webb said is false.
Webb had voted in favor of legislation earlier this year that would have allowed video slot machines at Kentucky horse tracks. That measure died in the Senate, but advocates have promised to try again.
"We have to make sure that David Williams does not continue to control the state Senate," said Jones, one of the leading gambling proponents.
Webb said the measure she voted for earlier this year was not an expansion of gambling because it would have allowed slots only at race tracks where gambling already is taking place.
"That was distorted beyond proportion," she said. "I'm not for casinos. Never was. Never will be."
The Webb-Ditty race has been an expensive one. As of last week, Webb had raised more than $235,000 for her campaign and Ditty $134,000 for his, according to records from the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance. On top of that, the Democratic and Republican parties have been sinking money into harsh television and radio ads.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)