A state divided

The places in Kentucky that are hurting the most and falling behind fastest voted last week to keep things the same.

Surveying the post-election landscape, Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell, who lost Lexington and Louisville, observed that Kentucky's two largest cities have grown increasingly liberal.

But maybe it's Republicans who have changed more than Lexington and Louisville.

The party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Eisenhower and John Sherman Cooper has become the party of Cheney, Rove, Palin and McConnell.

When McConnell made his first Senate run 24 years ago, Republicans had to carry Lexington and Louisville to win statewide.

Now Republicans win because of support in rural and small-town Kentucky, including formerly Democratic strongholds in the east and west.

The Republican ticket of John McCain and Sarah Palin thumped the winning Democratic team of Barack Obama and Joe Biden, putting Kentucky well outside the national mainstream. But, looking deeper, reporters Ryan Alessi and Linda J. Johnson found that in the 10 most populous Kentucky counties, Obama outperformed John Kerry, the Democratic nominee in 2004.

Urban and suburban areas, the places with the most educated voters and most diverse populations and economies, were more likely to vote Democratic this year, even in solidly Republican Northern Kentucky.

There may be no typical election, but this one was especially unusual — the first black presidential candidate topped the Democratic ticket, dissatisfaction with the current Republican administration reached historic highs and McConnell's challenger, Democrat Bruce Lunsford, was weighed down by insurmountable baggage. So it's risky to draw too many conclusions.

Still, Republicans have to worry about the future of a party whose base is narrowing to white rural voters.

And Kentuckians have to worry about the future of a state whose voters are so opposed to change.