What Might Have Been: A Competitive Race in Kentucky

May 17 2008 Published by under Featured News

I grew up in Louisville, Kentucky and know a few things about Kentucky politics. Kentucky did not jump at the idea of frontloading its primary in 2008. I think this is a smart idea due to what that would have meant for local and statewide office holders. Kentucky has the third most counties of any state in the union due to the founding idea that all of its citizens should be able to travel to and from the county government by horse in one day.

Accessible government was a good idea in 1792, but Kentucky does have a glut of counties today given contemporary transportation and communication technologies. Organizing that many county elections for a January primary or even for Super Tuesday in early February would be a massive undertaking with little benefit. Therefore, Kentucky is usually irrelevant in presidential primaries.

Almost relevant in 2008

Barack Obama has more or less conceded Kentucky to Hillary Clinton and focused on general election states. I do not blame Obama for doing so as he does not need a win or close loss in Kentucky to be the nominee and winning Kentucky in November does not look crucial or likely. Time in Missouri and Michigan is better spent than time in Murray or Maysville. Still, if this race were slightly closer I can imagine Obama putting up a fight in Kentucky. Here is how he could have kept it interesting and maybe made a stretch run at bluegrass glory.

Geographical Battle City vs. Country

Louisville and Lexington would be keystones to any victory Obama might achieve over Hillary Clinton in Kentucky. Northern Kentucky (or the Greater Cincinnati area) might also be fertile ground for Obama if it was not one of the most conservative regions in the nation. The term “out in the state” is a generic term many Louisvillians use to refer to most of the remaining portions of the state. Such a term does not engender endearment for Louisville in the rest of the state.

Kentucky actually has a lot of different non-urban regions rather than a beige region that happens to be rural. The tobacco regions, horse farming regions, the bourbon distilling regions, coal mining regions etc. all have different interests and needs. Still, Obama would need to run hard and win big in both Louisville and Lexington.

University Focus

Outside of Louisville and Lexington, the two largest cities and home of the two largest universities in Kentucky, Obama would have a hard time finding votes. Western Kentucky University, Eastern Kentucky University, Murray State, Morehead State and Northern Kentucky University would have to be the focus of his second prong of attack. Here Obama might be able to paint Clinton as old and himself as the voice of the youth.

Western Focus

Obama got trounced in West Virginia. Eastern Kentucky, where my roots lie, would not be good hunting for Obama. Western Kentucky on the other hand has a lively political culture and strong tradition of Democratic support. If Obama took up some issues such as preserving water quality for the bourbon industry and for cave tourism, well maybe he could split rural Western Kentucky.

That combined with University wins and winning Louisville and Lexington might result in an Obama victory or close loss. Southern and Eastern Kentucky would be areas where Obama would have to minimize damage, but he has more money so he could fight for every vote even in hostile territory.

Muhammad Ali

Obama has a picture of Muhammad Ali standing over Sonny Liston after a K.O. Muhammad Ali is a massive figure in Louisville. The Muhammad Ali Center in downtown Louisville demonstrates that Ali is the Derby City’s favorite son.

I do not think Obama could have easily won Kentucky. However, him fighting like Ali versus Liston would have been fun to see. The Louisville Lip never backed down. Had Obama said to Hillary, “Since you’re so great I’ll beat you by eight! I’m a baaaaad man!!!” It would have been fun even if Hillary beat him. Frazier beat Ali in their first fight too. That did not stop the greatest from winning the next two fights.

State Motto

Kentucky’s State Motto is “United We Stand, Divided We Fall.” I know this because the only flag in my Ohio living room is a Kentucky flag and I am reading it as I type. Obama should use this line when he declares victory after winning Oregon on Tuesday. It is a good chance to begin uniting the party.

Fancy Farm

Saint Jerome’s Parish Picnic in Fancy Farm, Kentucky (in extreme Western Kentucky) marks the beginning of the general election season in Kentucky. Candidates from both parties show up, make stump speeches, trash talk each other and eat a lot of barbecue. Bill Clinton and Al Gore highlighted the Fancy Farm participants in 1992. Barack Obama should make an appearance in 2008. At worst it makes the McCain camp spend some extra money in Kentucky. Fancy Farm is close enough to Missouri that it could be made part of a campaign swing through the Cape Girardeau region of Missouri.

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