Rand Paul, Jack Conway, and Kentucky Democrats

May 29th, 2010 11:33 pm  |  by  |  Published in Commentary, Election, Politics, Rand Paul  |  8 Responses

To say that the Senate election in Kentucky has been getting attention recently would be an understatement.  Overshadowed in the media firestorm surrounding the Paul/Maddow interview is the claim by Jack Conway and DNC chairman Tim Kaine that the Democratic party has a strong chance of taking the seat because both Jack Conway and his opponent, Lt. Gov. Dr. Daniel Mongiardo, received more votes than Rand Paul. To those unfamiliar with Kentucky politics, a cursory glance at the state’s voter registration would seem to support this view. Kentucky has approximately 1.6 million registered Democrats, and only 1 million registered Republicans.

Those familiar with recent Kentucky electoral history know better. Despite such a disparity in registration numbers, the Democratic Party has not won a statewide election for a federal office since Bill Clinton carried the state in 1996 by 13,331 votes. Kentucky hasn’t elected a Senator from the Democratic Party since the immensely popular Wendell Ford was elected to his final term in 1992.

Obviously, there are a lot of registered Democrats in the state who either sit out or vote Republican in federal elections in Kentucky.  Logically, the next questions would be “Why do voters who vote Republican register as Democrats?” and “What causes registered Democrats to vote Republican?” These questions suggest that there are two “cases” of registered Democrats who vote Republican in these elections – voters who would in other situations register as Republicans, but due to some circumstance choose to register Democrat; and voters who would ordinarily vote Democrat but due to some circumstance choose to vote Republican.

The answer to the first question is one of local politics and the Governorship. Kentucky has 120 (!) counties, and for years in many of the less populated primaries a number of local elections have effectively been decided in the Democratic primary. Additionally, there is frequently only one Republican up for a particular seat in local elections, giving the voter very little choice in local primaries if they choose to register Republican. This obviously does not hold true in all cases, but it cannot be discounted as a factor. As to the Governorship, Kentucky has had a Democratic Governor 80% of the time in the last 100 years, and has elected only one Republican to the office since Louie B. Nunn won in 1967. In any event, there are obviously some practical reasons to register as a Democrat regardless of your political ideology.

The answer to the second question above has more to do with where the state is ideologically.  Two of Kentucky’s six congressmen are Democrats, but only one (John Yarmuth – 3rd district) may be considered a true progressive.  Ben Chandler (6th district) could potentially run as a “moderate” Republican in another state.  Kentucky simply isn’t particularly liberal (especially on social issues), and candidates who run a campaign with a liberal platform will find themselves at odds with many Kentucky voters.

To summarize, I submit that Kentucky has four major classes of voters: Republicans, Progressive Democrats, Circumstantial Democrats, and Blue Dog Democrats.  The first two categories will likely vote along party lines.  It is the third and fourth categories that are going to be the key to the 2010 Kentucky Senate election (and frankly are key in any statewide election in the state).  To put this in the context of the primary, Republicans voted either for Paul or Grayson (obviously), Progressives almost certainly voted for Conway, and Blue Dog and Circumstantial Democrats probably voted in large part for Mongiardo (Circumstantial Democrats because he wasn’t Jack Conway, and Blue Dog Democrats because Mongiardo was their candidate of choice).

What does this mean for Rand Paul and Jack Conway?  Well, Paul should be focused on staying on his primary campaign’s message – term limits, earmark reform, balanced budgets, and the “Read the Bills” Act.  Jack Conway is going to need to convince undecided voters that Paul is extreme, or that he (Conway) isn’t liberal.  While Paul should be considered the favorite at this point, Conway is a charismatic and formidable opponent.  Paul cannot afford to let Conway drive the media dialogue in-state.

In upcoming posts, I’ll examine whether the national media attention has affected Paul’s chances (I would have done that in this post, but the Courier-Journal is supposed to be releasing a new poll this weekend and I’d like to include those results).  I’ll also provide some amateur electoral analysis for this race based on previous Kentucky races.


Editor’s Note: The author of this piece, John Flannery, hails from Kentucky and (in addition to his other future commentary) will be providing Liberty Maven readers with insight and analysis of the general election between Republican candidate Rand Paul and Democratic candidate Jack Conway.


  1. spinnikerca says:

    May 30th, 2010 at 3:59 am (#)

    Here's the courier journal poll, but they haven't polled head to head since November, so you can't really map a trend. Still, they and PPP were close in other respects, and PPP had Rand Paul 1% over Conway just before the election. Rand is up 6% now. Rasmussen took a poll but it was right after the primary when the press was crowning Paul king, and I think it had a bump, whereas this CJ poll comes after about the worst week Paul could have. At least that is my take, but what's yours? Cross tabs should be out soon.

  2. John Flannery says:

    May 30th, 2010 at 4:55 am (#)

    Yes, that's the poll I'm waiting for. I'm most interested in the favorables and the undecided numbers. It's important to remember that a six point win would be a BIG win for the Paul campaign; McConnell won by six in his last election vs. a viable Democratic opponent, and he's arguably the most popular politician in the state.. Kentucky is currently a solid red state in Presidential elections, but things are much closer in Senate races despite the lack of Democratic victories since 1992. I will be going more in depth on these previous elections in future posts.

  3. Tracy Saboe says:

    May 30th, 2010 at 5:02 am (#)

    Thanks for the incite.

  4. John says:

    May 30th, 2010 at 5:10 am (#)

    Thanks for reading! I'll do my best to provide what commentary I can. Feedback is always helpful and appreciated.

  5. Chris says:

    May 30th, 2010 at 4:12 pm (#)

    I think the Kentucky electorate is pushing him more to be like a Demint than anything closer to his father. He is being trashed left and right. Plus I think some of the extensions of the tea party send some confusing messages. They're going after Russ Feingold. I disagree with some of Feingold's policies, but he was really good about the wars, medicare d, patriot act and many other things. I would like to see the combination of Feingold with a Paul that is a little more like his father in the senate. It would be a great step for this nation. I think the two of them could get a long of things done.

  6. Harmonika says:

    May 30th, 2010 at 11:23 pm (#)

    Now that we know where Dr. Rand Paul stands on the rights of African Americans, it would be interesting to learn how many A.A. have gone blind due his unwillingness to provide them his opthomological service because of their skin color.

  7. Angelatc says:

    May 30th, 2010 at 11:38 pm (#)

    But I think (and this is from Michigan) that if he runs too far to the right, he'll frighten away the centerists. It looks like Conway is going to try to run in the middle, and Paul can't let him have that space.:o

  8. marcg says:

    May 31st, 2010 at 3:35 am (#)

    Well let's see… you may not want a serious discussion because of your idiotic assertion, but here is some more information just in case:

    Dr. Rand Paul established the South Central Kentucky Lion's Eye Clinic. It is part of a non-profit foundation that assists those individuals that are not financially capable of obtaining proper eye care and eye glasses. And this is directly from their web site:

    "The Foundation is not limited to the boundaries of the United States, but all over the world the people are benefited by the research performed by the Foundation. Millions of people are witnesses to the generosity and goodness of the Lions Eye Foundation. The Lions pride themselves in helping people overcome various eye afflictions by giving the most up to date treatment and having world class physicians. The Lions Eye Foundation is dedicated to upholding the mission that has gotten them this far and helped so many people."

    And this is found on their history page:

    "1995 – Clinic was established in Bowling Green called the South Central Lions Eye Clinic. Dr. Rand Paul helped establish this clinic and still is a major part of this clinic." http://www.kylionseye.org/District/43/projects/kl

    So do you think an eye Dr. who established a clinic to help the under-privileged from all over the world would turn away a patient due to skin color?

    Please stop dwelling on the surface of the debate and regurgitating what you hear in the media. You may disagree with Rand Paul, but your assertion is ludicrous.