Break out the bourbon—Democrats just won their 37th red-to-blue state legislative flip of the cycle. This latest win came in Kentucky, where former state Rep. Linda Belcher (not to be confused another important Linda Belcher) defeated Republican Rebecca Johnson 68-32 percent in the 49th state House District.
This seat went for Donald Trump in a 72-23 landslide in 2016, making Belcher’s win tonight an astonishing 86-point swing. Belcher herself lost this seat 50.4-49.6 percent in 2016 after flipping it from red to blue by a 53-47 margin in 2014. (She’d previously lost HD-49 in 2012 after serving two terms.) The Republican who ousted Belcher in 2016 was Dan Johnson, the self-styled “Pope” of the controversial Heart of Fire church.
Dan Johnson’s tenure as a state representative ended abruptly on Dec. 13, when, just a day after refusing to resign amid allegations that he sexually assaulted a 17-year-old in his home after holding one of his infamous church parties, he committed suicide. His widow, who continues to proclaim her late husband’s innocence, stepped forward to run for the seat.
The surviving Johnson has worked in her husband’s church for the past 30 years, and she’s intimately tied to Heart of Fire’s long history of legal troubles—everything from illegal sales of alcohol to multiple liens and judgements against the church. Also like her husband, she’s known for controversial posts on Facebook, and she was a no-show for the only debate of the race with Belcher.
Belcher had already planned to seek a rematch with Dan Johnson before his sudden death triggered this special election. She was one of at least 28 current and former teachers lined up to take on incumbents in November 2018, so she was ready to hit the ground running when the campaign timeline shifted.
If Republicans can’t hold onto seats like this in deep red states like Kentucky, they’re a special kind of screwed in November—at every level of the ballot.