LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Josh Hicks, a Marine veteran who switched parties after growing disillusioned with Republican policies he saw as favoring the wealthy, claimed the Democratic nomination Tuesday for a Kentucky congressional seat, setting up a fall match-up against U.S. Rep. Andy Barr.
A week after the state’s primary election, Hicks was declared the run-away winner over Daniel Kemph in the Democratic contest in the 6th District, which stretches from the bluegrass region of central Kentucky to the Appalachian foothills.
Meanwhile, Democrats picked up a state Senate seat long held by a Republican lawmaker who announced his retirement this spring. Karen Berg, a physician, defeated GOP opponent Bill Ferko in the special election, reflecting Democrats’ growing strength in suburban areas. The district includes Oldham County and parts of Jefferson County.
For Kentucky Democrats, it was the first time they flipped a GOP-held state Senate seat in a decade. Republicans hold an overwhelming advantage in the chamber.
“There has been no better time for Kentuckians to choose a doctor to send to Frankfort," state Democratic Chairman Ben Self said of Berg's victory. “Suburban, urban and rural voters are ready for leaders in Frankfort who want to help Governor (Andy) Beshear address Kentucky’s challenges."
After a week of suspense, election results Tuesday decided the outcome of races for federal, state legislative and local offices. Election officials needed days to count ballots after the state switched to widespread absentee voting amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The Barr-Hicks matchup looms as a high-profile race in the GOP-dominated state and will give voters a clear choice on some key issues. Barr coasted to victory in the June 23 GOP primary in pursuit of a fifth House term.
“We need to restore integrity to our democracy, and we need leaders who will take responsibility," Hicks said in claiming the nomination. “We need to make Congress work for the people again."
The final days of the primary campaign were overshadowed by tragedy, when Barr’s wife, Carol, died unexpectedly at their Lexington home. A preliminary autopsy report said she died of natural causes from a heart condition.
After his primary victory, Barr said he was “lifted up and blessed by the gifts of healing prayer" since his wife's death, saying it has sustained his family and “put us on the path to healing."
On health care issues, Barr supports repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act championed by former President Barack Obama. Hicks says the law has helped Kentucky families in part by expanding Medicaid coverage to hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians. Barr supported a sweeping tax overhaul package that delivered broad tax cuts. Hicks says those tax cuts disproportionately benefited corporations and wealthy individuals.
It was his disenchantment with GOP policies that led Hicks to switch parties in 2016. Barr has tried to connect Hicks to the liberal wing of the national Democratic Party.
Hicks served in the Marine Corps, reaching the rank of sergeant, and then spent five years as a police officer in Maysville. He went on to earn his law degree and started his own law practice in Lexington.
Barr was a target of national Democrats in 2018 but held off a strong challenge from Democrat Amy McGrath, who won her party's U.S. Senate nomination on Tuesday.