- Associated Press - Thursday, July 16, 2015

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - The Republican Party of Kentucky will have new leadership four months ahead of a pivotal election for governor.

Steve Robertson, the party’s chairman and executive director, is stepping down as executive director next month. Mike Biagi, a Kentucky staffer for U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, will replace him.

Robertson is joining the Lexington-based public affairs firm CivicPoint, a subsidiary of the Frost Brown Todd law firm. He will join former Kentucky Democratic Party chairman Jonathan Miller to form what the company calls a “bipartisan public affairs team in Kentucky.”

While Robertson will come off the state party’s payroll on Aug. 15, he will remain chairman of the state party through the November elections. He will eventually resign as chairman because his duties with CivicPoint will require him to eventually register as a lobbyist.

“It’s time for me to do that,” Robertson said. “This will allow me to focus more on raising money for the party, raising money for our candidates. I’m still obviously approving the expenditures this organization makes in this election and I’ll make sure we have a well-crafted plan.”

Biagi is McConnell’s field representative for Louisville, where McConnell lives, and its surrounding counties. The Shelbyville native is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and has worked for U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield and former U.S. Rep. Anne Northup, both Kentucky Republicans. He’s also had stints at the National Republican Congressional Committee and two of Northup’s political campaigns, giving him extensive campaign experience heading into the fall.

Robertson was elected chairman in 2007. Since then, Republicans have captured five of the state’s six congressional seats and held both U.S. Senate seats. Republicans have added 183,600 registered voters in Kentucky while Democrats have added nearly 24,000. The reason, Robertson said, is “the same reason that (Democratic nominee for governor) Jack Conway is not going to win this November: Barack Obama.”

Obama’s approval ratings in Kentucky have been horrendous, with as much as 60 percent of the voters disapproving of his job as president. Republicans have used this to their advantage, most recently in the state’s high profile U.S. Senate election in 2014 where McConnell soundly defeated the well-funded Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes.

But Republicans have been unable to duplicate their success at the state level, with Democrats holding five of the six statewide constitutional officers and an eight-seat majority in the state House of Representatives. Kentucky is the only southern state with a Democratic majority in the state House.

“The state House is a knock-down, drag-out every two years now,” Robertson said of a state that has historically been dominated by Democrats. “It’s not a question of if (Republicans will take control), it’s a question of when.”

Kentucky’s Republican Party has been mostly silent in the race for governor as it has been preparing to organize the state’s first presidential caucus next year. The caucus will allow U.S. Sen. Rand Paul to run for president and re-election to his Senate seat without violating state law banning candidates from appearing on the ballot twice in the same election. But the Democratic Party, with a newly hired chairman and communications director, has been aggressively pushing negative news releases on Republican nominee for governor Matt Bevin and paying for online ads attacking him.

Biagi was unavailable for comment. But in a news release announcing his hire, the first thing he said was: “This November, we must elect Matt Bevin as governor.”

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