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Clinton backers will be important election factor

Perhaps the most influential voting bloc in Kentucky this fall will be the supporters of a candidate who's not even in the presidential race.

That would be the throngs of Hillary Rodham Clinton supporters, many of whom are women — specifically white, baby boomer-types. They are known online as Hillarinas or Clintonistas.

Clinton, after all, received more votes in Kentucky in the May 20 primary than eventual Democratic nominee Barack Obama and Republican candidate John McCain combined (459,511 for Clinton, 209,954 for Obama and 142,918 for McCain). Granted, the GOP primary was all but over by the time Kentuckians went to the polls, but it's hard to deny that Clinton supporters are a sizable force in the Bluegrass state.

And many of those who spoke to the Herald-Leader and were contacted by the newspaper's pollster at the time said they'd struggle to support Obama in the fall if Clinton didn't win their party's nomination.

Creasa Reed, a 59-year-old Democrat from Lexington, told the Herald-Leader in May that she had strong reservations about Obama's lack of experience. He has been a U.S. senator only since 2005.

"I would rather see Kentucky red, than wrong," she said at the time.

But on Friday, after both parties finished their national conventions, Reed said she will pull the lever for Obama, albeit begrudgingly.

"It's been a real process for me, and it's taken some real soul searching because I'm not as much of a fan of him as I'd like to be," Reed said. "But I'm going to vote the Democratic ticket because I have to vote against John McCain."

Reed, who said in the spring that she admired McCain's record of military service and positions on national defense, said her change of heart has come after studying the two candidates' positions on domestic issues — particularly health care and the economy.

"If my decision was about preventing terrorism, I would vote for John McCain," she said. "But I am placing my emphasis on the economy, health and welfare and I want to get that national debt paid down."

Maureen Tarpey, 72, was a key organizer for Clinton volunteers in Fayette County this spring. She said to count her among the Hillary loyalists who have wholeheartedly embraced Obama.

"I'm glad she won Kentucky," she said. "But I always knew whatever happened I would support the Democratic ticket, especially this time around."

But both Reed and Tarpey said they know Kentucky Clinton supporters who won't vote for Obama. Reed's husband, Jerry, for example, plans to vote for McCain, she said, while her sister is leaning toward not voting on Nov. 4.

Some Kentucky Republicans who attended the GOP's national convention said they hoped Kentucky Clinton supporters might be swayed to vote for McCain now that he has brought Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin onto the ticket.

Republican state Rep. Alecia Webb-Edgington of Fort Wright said Palin's toughness and charisma and shattering of the "glass ceiling for women in the Republican Party" might attract disaffected Clinton Democrats.

Casual Democrats might be persuaded by Palin's presence, said Tarpey. But not most Clinton supporters, she said.

"She doesn't have the same positions as Hillary," Tarpey said, pointing to Palin's rigid opposition to abortion rights and strong support for drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. "The whole thing about Hillary Clinton supporters voting for McCain, that's just something that the Republicans ginned up," said Susan Carson Lambert, 60, a farmer and renewable energy consultant from Lawrenceburg. Lambert was a rare Democrat who was still undecided in the days leading up to the May 20 primary.

She said last week she ended up voting for Clinton. And she said she expects many of the voters who stood up for their woman last spring to now stand by their party's man in November.

"Most people I know who I've had conversations with say, 'This is my party's candidate and I'm standing behind him,' " she said.

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