Without Lexington and Louisville, Obama would have lost Kentucky to 'uncommitted'

bmusgrave@herald-leader.comMay 23, 2012 

FRANKFORT — President Barack Obama's poor showing in Tuesday's Democratic primary in Kentucky could mean trouble for state Democrats on the ballot this fall.

Obama was the sole candidate in the race, mustering 57.9 percent of the vote. The remaining 42.1 percent of Democratic voters chose "uncommitted."

If Fayette and Jefferson counties were removed from the vote count in the sparsely attended election, "uncommitted" would have bested the president. "Uncommitted" received the majority of votes in 67 counties, compared to Obama's 52 counties. In Calloway County, it was a tie.

On Wednesday, state Democrats quickly dismissed the idea that an unpopular president might torpedo their chances in November, noting that the same Kentucky electorate overwhelmingly elected a Democratic governor last year.

But Kentucky Republican Party chairman Steve Robertson said Obama's weak showing is bad news for state House Democrats and Democratic U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler, who faces a rematch this fall with Republican Andy Barr in the 6th Congressional District. Chandler beat Barr in 2010 by 647 votes.

In 12 of 19 counties that make up the 6th Congression al District, which got new boundaries earlier this year that make it slightly more Democratic-leaning, "uncommitted" performed better than Obama.

"If I was Ben Chandler, I would not be celebrating the changes in redistricting," Robertson said. "I think there is tremendous opportunity for Andy Barr, who has consolidated the Republican vote."

The National Republican Congressional Committee also pounced on the number of people in Chandler's district who did not vote for Obama, saying Chandler was out of step with the majority of people in his district.

"Yesterday, Democrats in Chandler's district put him on notice that they've had enough of his agenda and enough of politicians who put Washington ahead of Kentucky's interests," said Nat Sillin, a spokesman for the committee.

Chandler and Kentucky Democrats shot back, saying Kentucky voters still support Democrats. They noted that Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear was re-elected overwhelmingly last year and that Democrats hold all of Kentucky's constitutional offices but one. Commissioner of Agriculture James Comer is a Republican.

"My record demonstrates I'm a moderate who believes in common sense, results-oriented solutions," Chandler said. "I have supported the president's policies when I think they make sense for Kentucky and I have opposed them when they are not in the best interests of the commonwealth."

Democrats also were quick to point out that Obama received more votes in Kentucky than Republican Mitt Romney, the presumed GOP nominee for president. Obama got 119,284 to Romney's 117,599. Turnout for the election was a relatively meager 13.82 percent of registered voters.

"While many Kentucky Democrats choose to remain uncommitted in the primary, the exact same can be said about the Republican primary in which almost 35 percent of the Republican electorate chose not to support Mitt Romney," said Matt Erwin, a spokesman for the Kentucky Democratic Party.

He also dismissed Republicans who say Obama's poor showing will affect state House or Senate races in the fall.

"Just six months ago, Kentuckians overwhelmingly reaffirmed their desire to see continued Democratic leadership in Frankfort, and the Kentucky Democratic Party is prepared to build on that success," he said.

Republicans hold a solid seven-seat advantage in the 38-member state Senate, and few expect Democrats to make gains in November.

In the state House, Democrats outnumber Republicans 59-41. GOP leaders have high hopes of closing the gap in November, building on gains in the 2010 election cycle.

With so many Democrats disenchanted with Obama, it will be easy to convince them to stick with the Republican party in down-ticket races after they vote for Romney, Robertson said.

"The reality is that there will be a substantial number of Democratic voters whose first vote will be on the Republican side of the ticket," he said. "It's much easier to keep them on that side of the ticket than to get them to switch."

He said there are many parallels between Kentucky's Democratic House and Obama.

"I feel very confident that there is going to be a lot of connective tissue between a House Speaker Greg Stumbo-controlled House and what's going in Washington, D.C.," he said.

But House Democratic Caucus chairman Bob Damron, D-Nicholasville, said Republicans would have a hard time nationalizing state House races because most voters have personal connections to their representatives.

"They tried to do it in 2008, and that doesn't work," Damron said. "Instead of talking about a 'coattail' effect, they should be talking about their candidates."

Damron said House Democrats have recruited excellent candidates in open House races and said fund-raising is going well across the state. He predicted that Democrats would be able to maintain their current ranks in 2012.

Obama got the majority of Democratic votes in key urban areas, including Lexington, Louisville, Northern Kentucky, Bowling Green and Paducah. But he also lost traditional Democratic strongholds such as Pike and Floyd counties in Eastern Kentucky.

The Obama administration's regulation of the coal industry has disenfranchised many Democratic voters in the coal fields of Eastern and Western Kentucky, Robertson said. Other Kentucky Democrats are upset about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and mounting deficits. And still more disapprove of Obama's social policies, particularly his recent stance supporting gay marriage.

Damron noted that he voted in favor of a Kentucky constitutional amendment that banned gay marriage in 2004.

"I think a lot of our candidates are very independent," he said.

Danny Briscoe, a Louisville political consultant, said Obama's unpopularity in Kentucky also can be chalked up to race.

Republican John McCain trounced Obama in Kentucky in 2008, while Indiana was among those voting for Obama.

"That's a Republican-leaning state," Briscoe said of Indiana. "Race is a significant factor, and it's impossible to get accurate information on because people don't admit that to exit pollsters."

Beth Musgrave: (502) 875-3793. Twitter: @BGPolitics. Blog: bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com.

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