- Associated Press - Monday, January 5, 2015

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - It’s a good time to be a Republican in Kentucky, unless you are in the state House of Representatives.

Republicans have their largest majority ever in the state Senate. They hold five of the state’s six congressional seats and can boast about being the home state of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, a major contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

But Republicans still can’t shake Democratic control of state government.

While McConnell won all but 10 of the state’s 120 counties in November, Democrats maintained their eight-seat majority in the House of Representatives, assuring Republicans of minority status there for the next two years.

Republican frustration could boil over on Tuesday when GOP lawmakers return to Frankfort to select leaders for the upcoming legislative session.

“Look at all the Southern states. All of them now have a Republican House and Senate - all of them, without exception,” said Rep. Adam Koenig. “There is a great deal of opinion among party officials and donors that we have to make a change.”

Koenig, from conservative northern Kentucky, is challenging Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, who has led House Republicans largely unopposed for 14 years.

Other top Republican House leaders - Minority Whip Bam Carney and Minority Caucus chairman Bob DeWeese - announced they would step down from their leadership positions following the disappointing November elections.

Carney said he gave up his leadership post not because the caucus had lost confidence in its leaders, but because he recently remarried and wanted to spend more time with his blended family. He said it’s naive to blame Hoover for Republicans’ failure to take control of the House of Representatives. For one thing, Republicans had to run in new House districts that were created by Democrats. And Republican leaders had just three months after the districts were approved to recruit candidates.

Hoover does a great job of challenging Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo, Carney said.

“I’m very confident Leader Hoover will be re-elected,” he said. “Unless a lot of members are lying, that is going to be the case.”

Hoover did not respond to interview requests.

Republicans now control 68 of the 98 chambers in partisan state legislatures in the country after taking control of chambers in West Virginia and Nevada. David Avella, president of GOPAC, which spent more than $50,000 on Kentucky House races in 2014, said he’s not in the business of telling state parties who their leaders should be. But he said Republicans need to do a better job of recruiting candidates.

“Those (Democratic) incumbents did a better job than the candidates we recruited at communicating their message to voters and convincing voters that they were better representatives in Frankfort,” Avella said. “(Kentucky Democrats) made sure that districts favored Democratic incumbents. That doesn’t mean we can’t win them. We just have to have strong candidates with a good message.”

Koenig said he can get better candidates because he has experience running difficult campaigns. Koenig knocked off an incumbent Democratic county commissioner in 1998 when he was just 27. He ran statewide in 2003 as the Republican nominee for treasurer, losing to Democrat Jonathan Miller by 13 percentage points. Three years later, he won his state House seat in a tough year for Republicans who were dealing with the fallout from the indictment of former Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher.

“I’ve been very successful in some very difficult spots myself personally. I think that will be of great advantage to our caucus,” Koenig said.

Republicans also are likely to mount a fierce battle for the governor’s office this year. Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat, cannot run for re-election because of term limits. Agriculture Commissioner James Comer and former Louisville Metro Councilman Hal Heiner are vying for the Republican nomination while Attorney General Jack Conway is the only major Democratic candidate to announce for the race.

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