2018 election shows Ky. Republicans are riding a ‘white wave’

Published 6:46 am Friday, November 9, 2018


Louisville Courier Journal

There wasn’t a blue wave. Especially not in Kentucky.

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There’s likely not going to be one here for a long, long time. And the reason is black and white.

Or brown and white.

Take a look at the Southern Republican states where Democrats came close to winning big elections Tuesday night.

Florida. Georgia. Texas.

And then look at Kentucky.

Put simply: The Bluegrass State is blood red because of white voters.

Democrat Andrew Gillum finished less than a percentage point behind Republican Ron DeSantis in the race for Florida’s governor. There, 54.1 percent of the population is white and not Hispanic or Latino.

In Georgia, Democrat Stacy Abrams finished less than 2 percentage points behind Republican Brian Kemp and may have beaten him if not for his attempts to rig the election. There, just 52.8 percent of the population is white and not Hispanic or Latino.

In Texas, Beto O’Rourke finished less than 3 percentage points behind incumbent Republican Sen. Ted Cruz. There, 42 percent of the population is white and not Hispanic or Latino.

All these states are trending more diverse. And all of them are trending more Democratic.

Now, let’s look at Kentucky.

Just 8.4 percent of the population is African American and 3.7 percent is Hispanic or Latino. According to the U.S. Census, 84.6 percent of Kentucky is white and not Hispanic or Latino.

And Kentucky looks even whiter — 90 percent — if you remove Louisville and Lexington, the only two large Democratic strongholds left in the state.

Tuesday’s election, in which Kentucky Democrats were hoping for significant gains in the state House and the pickup of one congressional seat, shows Kentucky is strongly Republican now.

Democrats fell short in the 6th Congressional race and added just one in the state House in a year that they were hoping to capitalize on an unpopular Republican governor.

Meanwhile, Democrats in Louisville and Lexington appeared to be on a bit of a roll.

In Louisville, for instance, they were able to knock off state House members Phil Moffett and Ken Fleming, take two more Metro Council seats and completely trounce Republicans in the Louisville mayoral and 3rd Congressional District races.

In Lexington, they nearly knocked off a longtime Republican state senator and longtime House member and gave Democrat Amy McGrath, who lost the 6th District U.S. House race in rural parts of the district, a 24,797-vote advantage.

The urban-rural divide is clearly evident here in Kentucky.

And Tuesday’s result tells us that the Republican takeover of the state House in 2016 wasn’t simply the result of coattails from a popular GOP presidential nominee. It wasn’t just because a Democratic nominee was about as popular as the stomach flu.

It’s because the national Democratic Party doesn’t speak to people who live in rural Kentucky, and it doesn’t really speak to white voters who live outside of big cities.

That, as much as anything, explains the rise of Donald Trump.

And no matter how hard Democrats try to reach rural voters, it’s likely not going to make much of a difference at this point.

Part of the problem is that the national Democratic Party has become so focused on reaching and mobilizing urban voters and people who live in more diverse areas that it’s difficult for Democrats running at the state and local level to focus on issues that are important to rural voters.

Especially white rural voters who have little in common with many city-dwellers.

Matt Barron, a Democratic political consultant from Massachusetts who for years has preached that his party has turned its back on rural America and needs to reconnect with them, said he was stunned by McGrath’s 9,738-vote loss.

Running in rural areas when your party just wants to talk urban issues “is like running with lead on your legs,” he said.

“I thought she got it,” Barron said of McGrath, who noted that she ran a strong race and had good media.

He said now Democrats who want to run against Republican Matt Bevin for governor next year have got to question whether it’s even worth getting involved in such a race.

They’ve lost the rural vote for the next couple of generations, and there’s no coming back. At least not in the short term.

The Democratic Party in Kentucky is now limited to a small swath of land that runs from Louisville to Lexington. In the rest of the state, it’s got no more of a pulse than the Whig Party.

There was no blue wave, but maybe a blue ripple in Louisville and Lexington.

All the while, Republicans in the rest of the state are riding a big white wave.