What’s next for Kentucky’s Liberty Republicans after strong showing in last week’s primary election? Skip to content

What’s next for Kentucky’s Liberty Republicans after strong showing in last week’s primary election?

Movement leaders want to grow support across the state

6 min read

Liberty Republicans see good signs for their movement in Kentucky after most of their incumbents won in Tuesday’s primary and a couple of challengers defeated more establishment-type GOP lawmakers.

The successes came despite Liberty candidates being largely outspent.

Looking ahead, Liberty Republicans are hoping to branch out across the state from their Northern Kentucky stronghold — and recent election results suggest that may already be happening.

In Central Kentucky, Rep. Killian Timoney, often seen as a moderate Republican, was slammed in campaign mailers for voting against an anti-transgender law and a constitutional amendment to allow the General Assembly to fund nonpublic schools. The Nicholasville representative lost to Liberty candidate Thomas Jefferson, who was endorsed in the primary by the Jessamine County Republican Party. Jefferson will face Democratic candidate Adam Moore in the general election.

Though a recanvass has been requested, Aaron Reed — who some see as a possible Liberty ally — appeared to narrowly defeat Senate leadership-backed Ed Gallrein along with Liberty incumbent Sen. Adrienne Southworth in the 7th Senate District.

In West Kentucky, incumbent Rep. Richard Heath, of Mayfield was successfully primaried by a Liberty candidate, Kimberly Holloway. Heath is chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. 

While the Republican Party is at no risk anytime soon of losing its supermajorities in the House and Senate, the competition between party factions continues to heat up this election cycle. The Liberty Republican movement grew out of Northern Kentucky, where several incumbent Liberty candidates on Tuesday held onto their seats or advanced to a general election. 

‘Against the status quo of establishment politicians’

The Kentucky Liberty Caucus’ website defines Liberty politicians as ones who are “more critical of government debt spending, corporate handouts, the influence of money and lobbyists in politics, and intrusion upon the rights of individuals than the establishment.”

“The Liberty Movement in KY has been a reaction within the Republican Party, both nationally and at the state level, against the status quo of establishment politicians who claim to be conservative representatives of the people at election time, then more often than not fail to defend their constituents’ values & rights, conserve little, and instead represent the powerful,” the website says.

T.J. Roberts, a Liberty Republican who won his primary against former state Rep. Ed Massey, said Tuesday’s results show that the group has a “growing movement.” Roberts will face Democratic candidate Peggy Houston-Nienaber in the general election for the House 66th District seat, which opened after Rep. Steve Rawlings announced he would run for the Senate.

“This movement is winning. It’s spreading, and I’m thankful to be a part of it,” Roberts said. “That said, because I think this is the future of the Republican Party.”

He added that the movement means “holding our elected officials’ feet to the fire” both on their campaign promises and upholding the U.S. Constitution and Republican Party platform.

Roberts, a 26-year-old who if elected would become the first Gen Z Republican in the General Assembly, said that he became involved in politics after working on campaigns for U.S. Sen. Rand Paul and Rep. Thomas Massie. Roberts attended Massie’s victory party Tuesday night along with a few other Liberty-aligned Republicans.

“I decided to run for office in large part to make clear that the role of government has been for far too long ignored,” Roberts said. “And seeing what had happened to the Liberty people throughout the 2023 session, just prompted me to say you know what, I’ve had enough and I need to step up my involvement somehow.”

Who’s a real conservative?

Roberts was referring to the sometimes terse relationship Liberty incumbents have had with GOP leadership in the General Assembly. A few were removed from their committee assignments at the end of the 2023 legislative session for bucking House leadership, but those assignments were later restored this year. At the start of the 2024 legislative session, Pendleton Republican Rep. Felicia Rabourn led an effort to change House rules to loosen House leadership’s control of the legislative process, but it failed to gain enough votes. Rabourn won her primary Tuesday but will face a Democratic challenger, Robb Adams, in the fall. 

Rep. Savannah Maddox, a Dry Ridge Republican who supported the rules change, won her primary by a 66-point margin Tuesday. While she does not refer to herself as a Liberty Republican, she is often seen by others as a key member of the group.

“The point that I’m trying to get across is that those of who are currently being characterized as ‘Liberty’ Republicans, are being characterized as such by people who have deviated from the Republican Party platform, and it’s making them look bad. So, they’ve got to marginalize us, to other us, if you will, to create this other category or faction when in reality, I’m a lifelong Republican. Have been since I first registered to vote.”

“That really is what it comes down to — authentic Republicans, genuine conservatives, folks that are going to uphold the Constitution, limited government, free markets.”

Maddox said the recent primary election showed that Kentucky Republicans must look at candidates’ voting records and are “beginning to read between the lines.” She said the days are gone when candidates could send out mailers just saying they are “100% pro-life, I’m 100% pro-Second Amendment and I want greater economic growth” because voters are looking at their voting records.

“Kentuckians have clearly put their trust in Republicans to lead, but now they’re finding out that that doesn’t necessarily mean that we have a supermajority of conservatives,” she said. 

Maddox noted expensive efforts spent to campaign against incumbent Liberty-aligned candidates. After Tuesday, House leadership, she said, “has seen that the investment that was made on behalf of the political establishments to take out these incumbents was a bad investment.”

The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce PAC backed “establishment” Republicans, including leadership members and Massey, a former lawmaker. A PAC that was funded by the Jefferson County Teachers Association backed Timoney and Massey. Among the sources of financial support for Liberty candidates were Americans for Prosperity and U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie’s leadership PAC.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Andy Barr stressed what unites Kentucky Republicans, rather than what separates them, when he spoke to the crowd of local Republican Party members at the Republican Party of Kentucky’s state convention in Somerset, held days before the primary, about the need to unify. He said Republicans have “a lot of different flavors” when it comes to issues like foreign policy, supporting former President Donald Trump, free trade and more. 

“These Republicans who have different flavors, they’re not our enemies,” Barr said. “The adversaries that we face — believe me I see them every day in Congress, trying to make this country unrecognizable to all of us — that’s who we have to focus on — defeating the far extreme left.”

He got a round of applause from the party faithful. 

Will rifts be mended?

Republican Secretary of State Michael Adams, who won his second term in 2023 with support from Republicans and Democrats, said Liberty Republicans feel like they were “shot at and missed” in the primary election.

“The ones who won almost all of whom were incumbents, won by big margins, and they won some open seats by some big margins and those were holds for the most part,” Adams said. “But they feel good and they should feel good that they certainly defended themselves.”

As for what’s in store for Liberty Republicans, Adams said they have something in common with the minority political party in Kentucky. 

“I think the Liberty folks have actually the same challenge that Democrats have, which is recruitment,” Adams said. “Can they find people — will they find people — to run against every Republican incumbent, or are they going to kind of be a regional organization?”

Both have a regional stronghold — the Democrats in Jefferson and Fayette counties while Liberty Republicans tend to be in Northern Kentucky — but have occasional success in other areas of the state. Two Democratic members of the General Assembly, where Republicans hold an overwhelming majority of seats, are from Eastern Kentucky and Liberty Republicans had success in Central and West Kentucky in the primary. 

However, Roberts said it would be a “misnomer” to call the Liberty Republican movement exclusive to Northern Kentucky. He said the future includes building up “Liberty folks from outside of” the region. He also pointed to some elected Republicans he views as Liberty-aligned from other areas of Kentucky, such as Reps. Josh Calloway or Candy Massaroni.

“We’re playing stronger in Northern Kentucky, but I do think that there’s a lot of potential to build off of it and make sure that we get more people,” Roberts said. 

As for the next legislative session, which begins in January 2025, Maddox said it’s up to GOP leadership “as to whether or not they are going to learn from that experience” of working against Liberty incumbents. She said leadership could “double down and continue to engage in various types of tactics” like removing members from committees or blocking legislation, or not. 

“We are Republicans, and we are hopeful that they will see the writing on the wall and that we can get back to doing what we do best, which is creating effective public policy,” she said.

Roberts also expressed a desire to work with GOP leadership. 

“If anything, the retaliation makes the people all the more frustrated with what’s going on in Frankfort,” he said. “So, at the very least, let’s give these people a voice. Let’s make sure that the constitutional conservatives at least get a fair shake in Frankfort.”


Written by McKenna Horsley. Cross-posted from the Kentucky Lantern.

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Kentucky Lantern

The Kentucky Lantern is an independent, nonpartisan, free news service. We’re based in Frankfort a short walk from the Capitol, but all of Kentucky is our beat.