As chairs of the Democratic Party in their Eastern Kentucky counties, Jim Pruitt of Pike and Josie Hollon of Powell think it’s possible Democrat Hillary Clinton can beat Republican Donald Trump in the state this fall. But even they admit Clinton has much work to do if she wants to carry the Bluegrass State, where Democrats outnumber Republicans about 1.7 million to 1.3 million.
Clinton, who romped with more than 65 percent of the vote in Kentucky’s 2008 presidential primary election against Barack Obama, narrowly beat U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont in Tuesday’s Democratic contest. She carried 38 of the state’s 120 counties, mostly in urban areas and the central part of the state. She performed dismally in the coal fields of Eastern and Western Kentucky and in rural areas.
Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee, posted on Twitter early Tuesday evening when the Kentucky contest was seesawing back-and-forth between Clinton and Sanders: “Do you think Crooked Hillary will finally close the deal? If she can’t win Kentucky, she should drop out of the race. System rigged!”
Though Sanders had won a string of state Democratic primary elections going into Kentucky, Clinton remains the frontrunner in the Democratic race for president. She is expected to win enough delegates in the June 7 primary elections to clinch the nomination at this summer’s party convention in Philadelphia.
So, can Clinton win Kentucky in the Nov. 8 general election?
“No, not at all,” Larry Sabato, a national political scientist and analyst at the University of Virginia, said Wednesday.
“There would have to be a total collapse of Donald Trump for Hillary Clinton to take Kentucky in the fall and that’s not going to happen,” said Sabato, who rates Kentucky as “Safe Republican” in his Crystal Ball predictions of elections.
Clinton will concentrate on key battleground states with big numbers of electoral votes instead of Kentucky, which is “deep red in federal elections” and has only eight electoral votes, said Sabato.
A larger concern for Kentucky Democrats, Sabato said, is the possibility that a Trump triumph in Kentucky could affect down-ballot races.
“There could be a coat-tail effect and Republicans may finally win control of the Kentucky House of Representatives,” he said.
Republicans think they have a good chance of wresting control of the state House from the Democrats for the first time since 1921. It is the only state legislative chamber in the South controlled by Democrats, who now outnumber Republicans 53-47.
Scott Jennings, a Republican consultant in Louisville, agrees with Sabato that Clinton has “no, none, zero” chance of winning Kentucky this fall.
Since 1992, no Democratic candidate in a statewide election for federal office has gotten more than 50 percent of the vote in Kentucky, Jennings said. He noted that Bill Clinton took Kentucky in both his victorious presidential elections with about 45 percent of the vote.
“There is no path to victory for Hillary Clinton in Kentucky in November,” Jennings said. “I don’t think she will even target Kentucky. She suffers too much of being associated with Obama as his secretary of state.”
Jennings also said other Democratic candidates “up and down the ballot” will find it difficult with Clinton at the top of the ticket, especially in rural areas.
Danny Briscoe, a Louisville political consultant who favors Clinton, said she starts out the race in Kentucky as “a definite underdog because of her perceived stance on coal.”
He was referring to a comment Clinton made last month in which she said she is the only candidate with a policy plan to help coal-producing regions and added, “Because we’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.”
Republicans pounced on the last part of her statement and said Clinton wanted to put an end to coal. She said she was taken out of context and apologized.
Briscoe said Clinton usually does best in areas with a large number of minorities. He said 29 percent of Americans are minorities but only 8 percent of Kentucky’s population is black.
“The truth in this national election is that only about 10 states are in play, so I think Clinton and Trump will spend more time in them and not in Kentucky,” he said.
Briscoe agreed with Sabato that “the top of the ticket very well may influence the down-ticket races and Kentucky House races could be affected.”
“On the other hand,” Briscoe said, “all politics certainly are local and it’s possible for Republicans to do well on the federal level in Kentucky while Democrats do fine on the state level.”
Powell County Democratic Chairwoman Hollon, an insurance agent and crafts store owner, said Clinton can win in Kentucky this fall “if we get the party to pull together. I’m not against Bernie Sanders but I’m concerned that some Sanders’ supporters will not support Clinton in the fall.”
Hollon said Clinton’s comments about coal “definitely were taken out of context. She has a $30 billion plan for the coal industry and Trump is just saying he will put miners back to work. That simply is over-promising. Coal will never be back from where it once was in Kentucky.”
Hollon also said she is “worried” that a Trump win in Kentucky this fall will hurt Democratic House candidates.
Pike County Democratic Chairman Pruitt, a Pikeville attorney, said Clinton needs to clarify her position on coal.
“I don’t think she was able in the short amount of time for the primary election to reinforce her plan and tell how Republicans were taking her words out of context. You have to listen to her whole statement,” he said.
Pruitt said he does not think a strong showing by Trump in the state in November will affect the state House races.
“Kentuckians distinguish between federal and state races,” he said.