FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Texas Gov. Rick Perry will visit the home turf of a potential presidential rival to headline a fundraiser that's part of a strong push by Kentucky Republicans to flip control of the state House in their favor in 2014.
Perry, the longest-serving governor in Texas history, will speak at the Lincoln Reagan Dinner set for March 15 at Murray State University in western Kentucky, Calloway County GOP Chairman Greg DeLancey said Monday.
Kentucky's junior senator, Rand Paul, has been invited to attend, as has Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Paul and Perry are among a number of prominent Republicans mentioned as potential candidates for the White House in 2016. Perry made a short-lived bid for the presidency in 2012.
Murray businessman Steve Hamrick, a longtime Republican operative, said Perry will add energy to the Kentucky GOP's push to win control of the state House, where Democrats now hold a 54-46 majority.
"The momentum is going our way, and we want to keep it going," Hamrick said.
The event's local organizers are leaning toward charging $51 per person, DeLancey said. The amount carries plenty of symbolism, since Republicans need to hold 51 seats to complete their takeover of the Kentucky General Assembly. Republicans already control the state Senate.
DeLancey said the money raised will stay in the region, with the intent of helping GOP legislative candidates.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, sounded unimpressed and predicted Democrats will keep their decades-long hold on the House.
"If the House Republicans want to rally around a failed presidential candidate who could not remember the three federal agencies he said he would cut, then that is their prerogative," Stumbo said in a statement, making a reference to Perry. "House Democrats will be well-funded and we will have a better slate of candidates and ideas. Too many Kentuckians lost their homes in the Republican-caused recession; we're not going to let them take the Kentucky House."
Republicans have made solid gains in western Kentucky, once a Democratic stronghold. The GOP picked up its latest state House seat in a special election this month in western Kentucky, which followed a handful of GOP victories in 2012 for House seats traditionally held by Democrats.
Republicans pointed to the region's strong conservative values and President Barack Obama's unpopularity for the gains.
"Before the 2012 election, we didn't have a whole lot of Republican state legislators down there," said Kentucky GOP Chairman Steve Robertson. "Now we have a bunch and we hope to have more."
House Republican Floor Leader Jeff Hoover said a GOP takeover of the House is "very doable" due to the unpopularity of Obama's policies.
"As those things continue to escalate, the frustration level among voters in Kentucky will continue to grow," he said.