Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Reaction to Kentucky Primary

My blog is once again in a suspended state. However, I wanted to shoot off an initial, poorly researched, emotional reaction to Kentucky's recent presidential primary.

Much has been noted in national discourse about the racist nature of Sen. Hillary Clinton's support in the Kentucky primary. As a lifelong resident of the Bluegrass state, I can say - at least anecdotally - that it is highly probable that racism was a large factor in Sen. Clinton's landslide victory here.

The exit polls show that Sen. Clinton took 72% of the white vote, with whites making up 89% of the voters, while Sen. Barack Obama took 90% of the black vote, with blacks making up 9% of the voters. 21% of Kentucky voters said that race was an important factor in their vote. 7% even said that race was the most important factor. 18% of white voters listed race as an important factor in the election. Of those 88% cast their vote for Sen. Clinton, while only 9% voted for Sen. Obama.

These numbers have been used to say various things. Among them, that Sen. Obama has "work to do" to "reach out" to "blue collar whites." Sen. Clinton even uses numbers like these - which are the foundation of her success in Appalachia - to argue that she can build a "broader base."

It has also been widely noted that Kentucky's Democrat voters are considerably more conservative than their national counterparts. I couldn't flip the channel to MSNBC or CNN yesterday without hearing some talking head note that, without, of course defining what is meant here by "conservative" or providing any context for Kentucky politics.

All of this amounted to a painful evening for me last night. Painful because my state's primary provided yet another pretense for the continuation of Sen. Clinton's impossible and divisive quest for the Democratic nomination. Painful because my state is being held up (perhaps rightly) as an example of the triumph of racism in American politics, a narrative that adds yet another hurdle for the Obama campaign to jump over. And painful because so much of this narrative is misleading.

Kentucky's voters in the Democratic primary - especially those outside Lexington and Louisville (Obama took 55% of the urban vote), who voted almost unanimously for Sen. Clinton - are called "conservative Democrats," or Blue Dogs. But perhaps many of them could be more accurately labeled "Democrats locally, Republicans nationally." This is because the state Democratic party has operated here as a machine - in many districts, even and especially rural, conservative districts, you can't crack into local politics without registering as a Democrat. Many local races are determined in the Democratic primary.

While this has changed some in the last decade or so, the lingering effects of the political machine are that the sympathies of many voters registered in the state of Kentucky as Democrats lean far more toward the Republican party. Sen. Clinton may rightly claim this as Clinton country (her husband carried Kentucky twice), but this is also Bush country. In fact, president George W. Bush enjoyed far more success here than President Clinton. And, no matter how she wants to spin it, Sen. Clinton - though she won the Democratic primary here by more than 200,000 (almost 250,000) votes - would have no hope of carrying my home state in the general election, even if she were able to somehow steal the Democratic nomination in what Jack and Jill Politics has dubbed her "deathmarch to Denver."

The exit polls indicated that a full 32% of voters in the Democratic primary plan to vote for Sen. John McCain in the general election. Of those voters, 85% backed Sen. Clinton in the primary. In other words, her "broad base of support" rests on voters who - while registered as Democrats in the Commonwealth of Kentucky - plan to support the presumptive Republican nominee for president.

Unlike polls in other states, in which the phenomenon of Clinton supports threatening to vote for McCain to spite Obama after a long, difficult primary, I suspect this is a real number. Given the climate of politics in Kentucky, I suspect more than seeing Clinton supporters lashing out at Obama, we have here McCain supporters voting for Clinton because - for local reasons - they are registered as Democrats, and thus must vote in the Democratic primary.

So Sen. Clinton's campaign was propped up here not just by the racist vote, but also - though we in Kentucky have a closed primary - by the Republican vote. This, then, hardly counts as a reason to either doubt Sen. Obama's viability as a candidate, or to believe that Sen. Clinton would be a stronger candidate in the general election. We didn't learn anything here that we didn't already know: Neither of these candidates will carry Kentucky in the fall.


Amy said...

And what are your thoughts on Lunsford?

Sandalstraps said...


Bruce Lunsford (for those of you outside the state, he is the Democratic candidate for the Senate, running against Republican incumbent Mitch McConell) fits this paradigm perfectly. Not only is he a "conservative" Democrat, he's given over $56,000 to Republican campaigns.

He will say that recently he's been giving more money to Democrats, but that trend didn't start until after he tried to become the Democratic candidate for governor, running against Ben Chandler in 2003. After he lost his primary campaign, he famously endorsed Republican Ernie Fletcher in the general election. Fletcher won, which Lunsford was counting on. However, he then became quite possibly the least popular politician in the state of Kentucky.

When Lunsford ran again for governor lat year, his endorsement of Fletcher killed any chance he might have had. However, his neo-conservative ideology and his Rovian tactics didn't help, either.

The DNC foolishly backed him over more authentic Democrats, seeing in him - and his ill-gotten personal wealth (to date he's put roughly $20 million of his own money into his failed campaigns) - the best chance to unseat McConnell.

We Democrats got what we deserved with that one. And I have a tough choice on my hands. I suspect that rather than hold my nose and vote for Lunsford (I can't even imagine voting for McConnell) I'll just write someone in on my ballot.

Amy said...

From the research I did, outside of Fischer, Lunsford actually seemed to be the best candidate - which is a terribly disheartening day. All of the candidates were poor on immigration, which you and I both know is my pet topic, and that Wylie fellow couldn't even string two sentences together for the KFTC Voter Guide. I agree, being a Kentucky Democrat is discouraging.

Sandalstraps said...


First a correction:

In my comment I wrote that the DNC backed Lunsfored... I meant that the KDP and the DCCC backed him.

Both of those groups pressured Andrew Horne to leave the race, essentially communicating (as I understand it - Horne's public statements have been more polite than this) that not only would they not help him raise money, but that if he insisted on threatening the Lunsford coronation as McConnel's sacrificial lamb, I mean opponent, he would have no future in the party.

Horne was far and away the best candidate, but after he was forced out it was essentially a race between two conservative businessmen, and Fisher never could get traction in the race.

I cast my ballot for Horne, even though he'd pulled out long before the election, mostly because I couldn't bring myself to support any of the other candidates. I honesty have no idea what I'll do in the general. But, of course, I can't vote for McConnell, and if there's any chance he can be beaten...

Liam said...


I was hoping to get your thoughts on this primary. It was disappointing, as was the West Virginian primary (terrible to see all those "Democratic" voters come on TV and happily say they would never vote for a black man.

I will be glad when this is all over -- and given the financial state of the Clinton campaign, they won't make it all the way until August.

Hope you & your family are well.

Sandalstraps said...


Thanks for the comment. Outside the political arena, we're all doing well here.

As for the Clinton campaign running out of money, I hope you're right. But given their ability to self-finance (and most of their campaign debt is to themselves, I think) I'm afraid they can keep this going as long as they choose to.

Anonymous said...

Sandman: Good post. I started writing a long comment, but instead I just made it into a post on my blog. (It's positive, although I suggest another factor in addition to race to help explain the results.) Check it out!

goprairie said...

The POINT of the Convention is to choose a candidate. To keep saying Clinton should drop out because she is behind is silly. Do we look at polls of elections and say that the one obviously behind should drop out? Clinton and Obama are probably closer than any other set of potential candidates that has gone to convention for choice and the longer both are in, the more race and gender issues will get discussed in this country and beyond and that is a good thing in itself.

Sandalstraps said...


No one here, anyway, is saying that Clinton should drop out. That wasn't mentioned either in the post or in the comments on the post - though there were some negative comments about the Clinton campaign. That your comment references nothing that has been said here makes me suspect that you are trolling.

However, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt for now.

While we're on the subject of Sen. Hillary Clinton, here are a few things that I am saying:

1. She has no mathematical chance of securing the Democratic nomination. Her only hope was to have the Superdelegates overturn the "will of the people"; that is, to have party insiders overlook the fact that Sen. Obama has a lead in every democratic measure. All claims to the contrary are either dishonest or delusional.

2. When a candidate has clearly lost, that candidate ought not engage in a negative (and dishonest) campaign against the candidate who is overwhelmingly likely to win the party's nomination.

I say this as someone who was, at the start of the primary season, very hopeful about Sen. Clinton's candidacy. While I was leaning narrowly toward either Edwards or Obama, I was certainly opening to considering voting for Sen. Clinton. I would certainly have been excited to vote for her in the general election, if she were to have secured the Democratic nomination.

But the level of dishonesty in her campaign, coupled with overt race baiting - her appeal, for instincts, to the very worst natures of my fellow white Kentuckians - has turned my stomach. She has, of course, every right to continue campaigning for as long as she is financially able. But she will never be forgiven by the bulk of her party for some of the more ridiculous aspects of the campaign that Jack and JIll Politics - as noted in this post - rightly dubbed the "deathmarch to Denver."

Between her "hard working Americans, white Americans" comment or her multiple references to the RFK assassination as a justification to continue her campaign (whether or not she intended to imply that she'd be happy to be the nominee if anyone wanted to, say, shoot the front-runner, who has received more than a few credible death threats) her campaign has done far more harm than good, and its perpetuation is seen most charitably as an exercise in vanity.