- Associated Press - Monday, November 7, 2016

GEORGETOWN, Ky. (AP) - Candidates in dozens of contested Kentucky House races spent Monday shaking hands, knocking on doors and handing out leaflets in a frenzied, final round of campaigning, the day before the election to decide the fate of the last legislative chamber in the South still controlled by Democrats.

In Georgetown, Democrat Chuck Tackett and Republican Phillip Pratt made last pitches to voters in one of the state’s most heated and expensive campaigns. The rivals spent more than $162,000, combined, on TV ads, according to an analysis by The Center for Public Integrity.

“Everyone I talked to tells me they want change,” said Pratt, who lost to Tackett in a special election last March. “I am the change.”

Tackett touted himself as an independent voice, saying: “I’ve run this race on my own.”

Republicans hope Donald Trump propels their candidates to victory, promoting a series of Facebook ads with GOP candidates arm in arm with the presidential nominee. But they avoided Trump in a Louisville district where President Barack Obama endorsed Democrat McKenzie Cantrell.

Cantrell hopes to unseat state Rep. Denny Butler, who switched parties near the end of 2015 to align with Republicans. She’s counting on voters sticking with their party in the overwhelmingly Democratic district.

“He lost a lot of his political capital when he switched parties,” she said.

While campaigning in the working-class district, Butler vowed to not change his policy positions, including opposing so-called “right-to-work” bills that would not allow companies to require workers to join a labor union as a condition of employment.

Republicans need to pick up four seats Tuesday to win a majority in the state House of Representatives for the first time since 1920.

If they succeed, it would further consolidate power in the hands of Republicans, who have a lopsided advantage in the state Senate and hold the governorship after Matt Bevin’s election a year ago. The lone executive offices held by Democrats are attorney general and secretary of state.

In an election-eve pep talk, state Rep. Sannie Overly, chairwoman of the state Democratic Party, urged voters to take a stand against GOP policies on education and health care that she said would hurt people.

“We need balance in state government, and we must have a check to the abuse of power we’ve seen from Gov. Bevin,” she said.

Longtime GOP House Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover sounded upbeat about the chances of flipping control of the House to his party.

“We’ve put ourselves in a position … to be able to cross the finish line and become the majority,” Hoover said.

Two factors loomed as assets for House GOP candidates - Trump’s presence atop the ballot and GOP control of the governorship, he said.

Obama’s environmental regulations targeting the coal industry, along with Hillary Clinton’s comments earlier this year that were viewed as anti-coal, will draw a backlash from voters in the eastern Kentucky coalfields, Hoover said.

“They’re mad and they’re taking it out on them, as rightly they should,” he said. “And that has to be a benefit to our candidates.”

Democrats lost a key fundraiser and promoter when Steve Beshear, limited to two terms, left the governor’s office last December.

The stakes are also high for Hoover’s political future. He’s in line to become House speaker early next year if Republicans win control of the House. If Democrats keep their majority, Hoover has pledged to give up his leadership post as minority floor leader.

During a campaign stop with Democratic Senate candidate Jim Gray on Monday, Beshear said the fight for the House would be close.

“I think we have the issues that count in terms of standing for education, health care and creation of jobs,” the former governor said.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, also campaigning with Gray, said: “If people localize the races, the Democrats hold.”

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