By Jessica Marker

Kentucky joined the Union in 1792 and remained in the Union during the Civil War. From that time until the end of World War II, Kentucky joined with Southern states in supporting the then-conservative Democratic Party.

As the Democratic Party embraced civil rights and other more liberal proposal in mid-century, Kentucky voters regularly supported Republican presidential candidates. Ronald Reagan won Kentucky with 49 percent of the popular vote in 1980, and 59 percent in 1984. presidential election. The state gave its electoral votes to Democrat Jimmy Carter in 1976 and Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996. Both of these candidates were southern governors.

In 2008, President Obama received 41 percent of the popular vote in Kentucky, trailing Sen. John McCain who received 57 percent. University of Kentucky Professor Al Cross writes that “much of Kentucky lies in the Pennsylvania-to-Oklahoma ‘McCain Belt’ of counties that voted more strongly against Obama than 2004 Democratic nominee John Kerry.”

While Kentucky appears set to give its electoral votes to Republican Mitt Romney in the presidential race and the state has two GOP U.S. senators, the state has a popular Democratic governor, Steve Beshear.  According the Public Policy Polling, Beshear tied for 4th most popular governor last year with Tennessee’s Bill Haslam.

Beshear supports giving federal authorities more power in order to track down suspected terrorists and deny them entrance to the U.S. On immigration, the governor supports more border enforcement and deportations. On energy, a hot topic due to Kentucky’s 18,000 coal miners, Beshear supports the renewable energy tax credit, but also supports less federal restrictions on the mining of coal.

Professor Cross contends that while many Kentuckians care about these issues, the topic on everyone’s minds this year is job creation. Kentucky has had a significantly higher unemployment rate than the national rate. Aside from jobs, Cross says Kentuckians care deeply about social issues such as abortion and gay rights. He attributes the state’s conservative leanings on these issues to demographics: religious individuals, low-income households, and citizens without a college education. According to the Association of Religion Data Archives, 34% of Kentuckians are evangelicals. According to the US Census, the median income for a Kentucky household from 2006-2010 was $41,576, more than $10,000 below the national average for that time. The census also shows that only about a fifth of Kentuckians over the age of 25 have a college degree or higher.


2012 Congressional Elections

Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell is the Senate Minority Leader. The junior U.S. senator from Kentucky, Rand Paul, is an outspoken Tea Party activist. Both are Republicans, a trend in Kentucky’s senators since the late 1950s. McConnell, who has served in the Senate since 1985, will be up for re-election in 2014. Rand Paul, who is serving his first term, will be up for re-election in 2016.

Kentucky has six seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. In redistricting legislation was passed by the Kentucky General Assembly in February, two of the state’s districts became slightly more Republican, while two became slightly more Democratic. It should be noted that the districts that became slightly more Democratic still strongly favor Republican candidates. Redistricting might influence the outcome of the election is the sixth district. Democratic U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler is running for re-election against Andy Barr, an attorney who unsuccessfully challenged him in 2010. Chandler won in 2010 by only a few hundred votes after a contentious campaign. The district was made slightly more favorable to Democrats during the redistricting process, which could help Chandler.

Five out of the six congressional districts have an incumbent running. In these districts, the incumbent is favored to win, even if by a small margin. The fourth district has no incumbent running, as Republican Geoff Davis decided not to seek re-election. Thomas Massie, the Republican candidate, is expected to win the election against Democrat Bill Adkins, especially since the already-Republican-leaning district was made more favorable to the GOP during redistricting.


States and Local Politics

There is no gubernatorial race in Kentucky this year. Steve Beshear was elected in 2007 and again in 2011, and therefore is not eligible to run again in 2015. However, some are already speculating about who will run for governor in that election. Notable Democrats who have expressed interest in the position include current state Attorney General Jack Conway and former state Auditor Crit Luallen. A notable Republican who has expressed interest in the position is U.S. Congressman Brett Guthrie. Phil Moffett, a Tea Party favorite and a Republican candidate for governor in 2011, says he might run again in 2015.

Elections will be held this year for 119 seats in Kentucky’s general assembly. All 100 state House of Representatives seats are up for election and 19 out of 38 seats in the Senate are up for election. Republicans are going into this election with a sizable majority in the Senate, holding 22 seats. Democrats have a majority in the state House, holding 58 seats. Republicans have had a majority in the Senate since 2000 and the House has been Republican-controlled twice, not recently. Professor Cross says that Republicans in the Senate have been a successful counterforce to Democratic governors, making it difficult for them to pass their budget proposals in the past decade. The state has had a reliable trend in Democratic governors, having elected only two Republican governors since 1950.

In January 2012 the state’s legislative districts were redrawn. However, these will not affect 2012 elections. A judge ruled the newly drawn legislative districts unconstitutional and ordered that the previous district lines be used in the 2012 election. The new district lines were found unconstitutional because they made some districts too large and divided some counties into more districts than necessary.

There are no controversial amendments or initiatives on the ballot this year. There is a proposed amendment to the state constitution, guaranteeing the right of Kentuckians to hunt and fish. This measure is expected to pass. The effect it may have, according to Cross, is to bring out more hunters and gun owners to the ballots. This would likely be beneficial for Republican candidates.

A measure that was supported by Governor Beshear, but did not make it on the ballot, was a proposal to expand gambling. Specifically, it would have allowed the construction of seven casinos within the state. Kentucky is already known for gambling at horse racetracks, and Beshear said this measure would create revenue for the state. He faced strong opposition from Republican Senate President David Williams, his opponent in the 2011 gubernatorial race. The state Senate killed the bill in February 2012, with 21 out of 22 Republicans voting against it.


General Political Atmosphere

Professor Cross holds that there have not been any major political shifts in the state in the last 20 years, but rather, in the candidates. He says that candidates on the left have moved farther left on the political spectrum, thus diminishing their support in Kentucky. Democrats have increasingly adopted environmental issues and Kentucky produces 112.9 million tons of coal per year. Kentucky is one of 15 states suing the Environmental Protection Agency for imposing stricter regulations on air pollution. The data also show that support for Democrats has declined in recent decades. In 1989, nearly 68 percent of Kentuckians were registered Democrats, compared with only 57 percent today. Cross notes that increased attention to social issues, such as gay rights, drives more conservatives to take political action. In 2004, Kentuckians overwhelmingly approved a ban in the state constitution on same-sex marriage and civil unions.


The Press and the State

Professor Cross spent more than 15 years as the chief political writer for the state’s largest newspaper, the Courier-Journal. He says the relationship between policymakers and the press is usually not contentious. He notes that the number of political reporters has been cut in half in the past 15 years, due to a declining newspaper industry.


The Who’s Who in Political Reporting

Best Newspapers

The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky)

The Lexington Herald-Leader (Lexington, Kentucky)

Best Blogs  –News website written by the political reporters of the Herald-Leader. This Lexington newspaper is the second largest in the state. Notable writers: Beth Musgrave and Jack Brammer.  –a site that compiles the top stories of various Kentucky news sources. The site is run by Jacob Payne, a political blogger and registered independent.

Notable individual reporters

Ronnie Ellis for CNHI News Service

Scott Wartman for  (Northern Kentucky news)

Best Shows

“Pure Politics” with Ryan Alessi on CN-2 Cable. Alessi was a reporter for 7 years at the Lexington Herald-Leader. Website:

“Comment on Kentucky”—hosted by Ferrell Wellman on Kentucky Education Television (KET, run by PBS)

Best News Stations

WKYT TV-27 (CBS – Lexington)
WLEX TV-18 (NBC – Lexington)
WTVQ TV-36 (ABC – Lexington)
WAVE TV-3 (NBC – Louisville)
WDRB TV-41 (FOX – Louisville)
WHAS TV-11 (ABC – Louisville)
WLKY TV-32 (CBS – Louisville)

Best Radio Station

WFPL 89.3 FM. Provides coverage of local, national and international news. It is run by Louisville Public Media (LPM), a non-partisan non-profit.



Kentucky Democratic Party:

Kentucky Republican Party:


State Officers

Governor: Steve Beshear (D)                                         2007-present

Lieutenant Governor: Jerry Abramson (D)                2011-present

Secretary of State: Alison Lundergan Grimes (D)     2012-present

Attorney General: Jack Conway (D)                             2008-present

State Treasurer: L.J. “Todd” Hollenbach (D)             2008-present

State Auditor: Adam Edelen (D)                                   2012-present

State Agriculture Commissioner: James Comer (R) 2012-present


Kentucky Legislature




Senate Leadership:

President: David Williams (R)                                         2000-present

President Pro Tempore: Katie Kratz Stine (R)             2005-present

Majority Floor Leader: Robert Stivers (R)                    2008-present

Minority Floor Leader: R.J. Palmer (D)                        2011-present


House Leadership:

Speaker: Greg Stumbo (D)                                               2009-present

Speaker Pro Tempore: Larry Clark (D)                         1993-present

Majority Floor Leader: Rocky Adkins (D)                    2005-present

Minority Floor Leader: Jeff Hoover (R)                        2001-present


U.S. Senate

Mitch McConnell (R)                                                         1985-present

Rand Paul (R)                                                                      2011-present


U.S. Congress (1 currently vacant seat due to early resignation)

Ed Whitfield (R)                                                                 1995-present

Brett Guthrie (R)                                                                2009-present

John Yarmuth (D)                                                              2007-present

Harold Rogers (R)                                                              1981-present

A.B. Chandler III (D)                                                         2004-present