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Lexington attorney, former state representative is vying for KY Republican Party chair

With the Republican Party of Kentucky’s chair stepping down, a familiar face to Frankfort and Lexington is vying for the state GOP’s top spot.

Robert Benvenuti, a health care attorney and former state representative in Lexington, has thrown his hat in the ring to become the next chair for the Republican Party of Kentucky.

While talk of other candidates has taken place since former chair Mac Brown stepped down late last month, Benvenuti is the only person to have contacted all members of the Republican Party of Kentucky’s Executive Committee and the Republican State Central Committee declaring his intent to seek the chairmanship.

Benvenuti is no stranger to politics. Under the administration of former GOP Gov. Ernie Fletcher during the mid 2000s, he served as inspector general for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. He later held the Lexington-based House District 88 (now occupied by House Democratic Caucus Chair Cherlynn Stevenson) for three terms, from 2013 to 2018.

“While I have remained quietly involved in Kentucky Republican politics since leaving elected office, I believe I now have more to offer the Republican Party of Kentucky,” Benvenuti wrote in an email to party executive committee and state central committee members, which was provided to the Herald-Leader by some recipients. “I have thoughtfully and prayerfully considered whether as chairman I have the ability to continue to build upon the great success of the Republican party in Kentucky, particularly that which has taken place over the past two decades.”

Others have mulled the idea of going for the chairmanship but have since backed out.

Alan Keck, the young Somerset mayor who made headlines with a splashy campaign but fell to fifth place in the GOP gubernatorial primary, told the Herald-Leader that he’d received some encouragement to run for chair. Ultimately, he decided against it.

“While there has been a humbling and exciting amount of encouragement to pursue the role of chairman, I have decided to remain focused on my work as mayor and enjoying some needed time with family,” Keck told the Herald-Leader. “I appreciate everyone across the state who reached out. The future of our party and our commonwealth is so incredibly bright.”

The process for electing a new chair is kicked off by the 50-plus members of the executive committee, who serve as the nominating committee. Then, the full Republican State Central Committee — made up of local party chairs and vice chairs, statehouse elected officials and more — takes a vote to confirm the executive committee’s nomination.

The vote is set to take place Saturday.

Benvenuti did not respond to calls or emails to his law office, but wrote in the email to party members that he’d be faithful to conservative principles.

However, there has been some dissension within the party as to what qualifies as conservative principles.

As the ranks of Republican elected officials have grown quickly, some intra-party rifts have developed. Several Republicans want to push the party to the right. Meanwhile, others like Secretary of State Michael Adams believe the party needs to steer clear of focusing on some social issues, like trans rights, that make some Kentuckians feel excluded.

There’s also the question of former president Donald Trump, who is the current front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination. Brown, in an exit interview with Louisville television station Wave3, indicated the party ought to “move on” from Trump and nominate someone else for president in 2024.

“I think President Trump did some good things in his administration and I think it’s time to move on. I think the sooner the party moves on from him, the sooner it will succeed,” Brown said.

In Brown’s eight years as chair, the party grew tremendously in the Kentucky House and Senate. It also overtook the long-dominant Democratic party in terms of voter registration. However, it lost gubernatorial bids in 2019 and 2023 to Gov. Andy Beshear.

Benvenuti, in his email, emphasized the importance of both “unity” and “diversity of opinion” among the growing GOP to keep making gains.

He wrote that the GOP has “much more work to be done.”

“As a Party, we must continue to unite, to rely upon the wisdom of our conservative forefathers, and to further tap into the passion of Kentuckians who have already entrusted to us the responsibility of leadership,” Benvenuti wrote.

“As a Party we must continue to seek and develop opportunities to further convince the majority of Kentuckians to desire a government, and governmental policies, that center on Republican principles. As has been demonstrated, it is when we persuade the citizens of Kentucky to trust in us, and to follow our thoughtful lead, that our God-given constitutional freedoms are most deeply rooted, and our Commonwealth is at its best.”

The chair term would end in 2025, according to a spokesperson for the Republican Party of Kentucky.

According to a spokesperson for the Kentucky Democratic Party, current chair Colmon Elridge “has no plans on going anywhere” in the near future.

A full state Democratic party reorganization was set to take place early this year but was pushed back due to the governor’s race. Timing on the full reorganization will be decided in the coming weeks.