Battleground Kentucky: UK Political Analyst Surveys The 2016 Landscape
The 2016 electorate has seemingly delighted in upending experts' expectations, but University of Kentucky political science professor Stephen Voss sat down with WUKY's Josh James anyway to sort through what we do know heading into Tuesday's presidential contest in Kentucky. The questions abound: Will Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders manage another upset in the Commonwealth? Can Republicans position themselves to oust the longstanding Democratic majority in the Kentucky House? And how will the wild card known as Donald Trump affect down ballot races this November?
Handicapping the Democratic presidential candidates in Kentucky: We have a closed primary, which helps Hillary Clinton. We have some conservative Democrats still here, which is rare nationwide, and therefore those voters are likely to be Clinton voters. She's got good ties with the Grimes family and she's gotten Beshear's endorsement as well... All of these pressures point to Clinton having an advantage. On the other hand, Bernie Sanders does well in states where the Republicans dominate, when liberals have sort of retreated to be just a small pocket of voters in the state... He's winning the Democratic votes among Republican electorates. Another thing that favors him is Clinton made some comments that made her sound anti-coal and we just saw in West Virginia, another coal state, Sanders beat Clinton. So at least out in the eastern part of Kentucky you may see Clinton doing more poorly than she otherwise would have because of those intemperate statements.
On the Democratic primary split: The Democrats, despite the sometimes contentious nature of their clash, are a lot happier with each other and they see eye to eye on a lot more issues than the Republican candidates who were at the top did. While it's always possible that you could have some kind of insurgency at the convention, I wouldn't give it even odds.
Who's most likely to take on Rand Paul: [Jim] Gray clearly has the advantage in terms of most of the resources you need to mount a campaign, so that means that [Sellus] Wilder will be scrambling hard to reach some kind of parity where he can put up a fight. [Wilder] does have one clear advantage, which is that, with Sanders mobilizing a lot of people from the top of the ticket, many of those Sanders voters may see him as the more logical choice rather than Gray with his business ties and his more mainstream candidacy.
On the push for ideological purity: You don't see this massive surge of turnout in favor of hard right or hard left candidates. What you see is that the folks in the middle, who usually decide elections because they're so numerous, get scared off and they end up voting for the candidate who's closer to the middle of the road.
On Rand Paul's presidential run: I think for the most part Rand Paul did himself some good here... Kentuckians who were interested in the Republican nomination battle got to see him up there on the stage with some other important players. He didn't mess up in any dramatic way. Yes, he lost and he didn't get a great showing, but he also didn't have any of the major gaffes or the really damaging misstatements that undermined a lot of other candidates.
Will the Democratic majority hold in the state House: At least anecdotally, what we know about the process and when we look at some of these districts and we see how the votes translated into outcomes, it sure looks like a map that's favorable to Democrats, and so the Republicans are fighting an uphill battle to try to take that chamber.
On the Trump effect on down ballot races: Once that new electorate kind of shows and gets split up across those districts, all bets are really off once we have Donald Trump in the race. Let's say a bunch of people who previously would not have voted show up for Donald Trump. We don't know whether they're going to stick around for any of the other races... They might show up, press the Trump button, turn around, and walk out again... Or they show up, they know Trump's the Republican, they hit the Republican party button, vote it down the whole ballot, and turn around and walk away.
On distrust of government: We've got this whole generation where there were signs that people were ready to wreck the establishment and throw out the insiders and take the mavericks and they didn't. Well now, a generation later, I guess we've got all the children of those people who were saying all that nasty stuff about the system, they're starting to vote and they're kind of acting as though they believe the ideals that their parents stated but didn't act on. We've got people who are really beyond the pale by the standards of a generation ago.