A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Democrat Karen Berg wins special election to replace state GOP Sen. Ernie Harris, who held seat 25 years

Staff report

In the big surprise of the primary election was a special election in a State Senate race to fill a vacant seat left by the resignation of longtime GOP Sen. Ernie Harris.

Harris retired in April after holding the seat in suburban Louisville for 25 years.

Dr. Karen Berg

Democrat Karen Berg won the seat, defeating Republican Bill Ferko by 14 points and flipping the Republican seat to Democratic. The win is the first time Kentucky Democrats have flipped a state Senate seat since 2010, according to a story in the Huffington Post by reporters Travis Waldron and Brooklyn Wayland.

Berg narrowly lost to Harris in 2018 and will now hold the seat until that term expires in 2022.

The Democrat win won’t tip the Senate majority but it may be a sign of trouble in the suburbs as November approaches.

The report quotes Stephen Voss, a University of Kentucky political scientist who specializes in voter behavior and election patterns: “Nationwide, the Republicans are in great danger of losing the upper-status professionals who used to side with them. If that realignment in those voters becomes permanent then the Republican Party is in trouble.”

Waldron and Wayland report that Berg was recruited to run in the race by Emerge Kentucky, a chapter of a national organization that recruits and trains women to run for office. The same group recruited now Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman.

Berg focused her campaign, the report says, on her experience as a physician and professor at the University of Louisville’s school of medicine and arguing that “healthcare is a right” and Kentucky needed to make investments to improve public education.

The primary election drew a record turn-out from Democrat voters amid expanded mail-in voting.

“The unhappiness seen among affluent professionals with the Republican Party has stuck around for a couple of year,” Voss told the reporters. “If it continues on to November then prospects for Democrats in terms of the Senate and the presidency are looking very good.”

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