The media has made little of what might be a big wildcard in Tuesday's GOP primary: Republican voters who remain registered Democrats.
Kentucky is a closed primary state, which means these Ds-in-registration-only can’t vote in the GOP prelims. That could make a crucial difference in a close race.
Eight years ago, Matt Bevin won the GOP gubernatorial nod by just 83 votes. It’s impossible to know if a handful of “Ds” who are really “Rs” might have tipped the cliffhanger the other way had their party loyalty and voter registration matched.
If the polls are right, Attorney Gen. Daniel Cameron is the favorite to take on Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, come November. But U.N. Ambassador Kelly Craft and Agriculture Commission Ryan Quarles are legit contenders.
I don’t know the yard sign situation elsewhere in Kentucky. Quarles seems to be winning the sign war in the Jackson Purchase, my neck of the western Kentucky woods.
The eight counties west of the Tennessee River used to be called the “Democratic Gibraltar” for their fealty to the party. The region’s historic blue hue has turned deep Republican Red like most other parts of Kentucky. Registered Republicans now outnumber registered Democrats statewide by a tad less than 53,000.
Democratic activist Daniel Hurt suspects more than a few “Ds” by registration only say to themselves ‘Okay, I used to be a Democrat but now that I vote Republican I am a Republican. There seems to be a disconnect between calling yourself a Republican but not registering as a Republican.”
He said the state GOP is urging its voters to register Republican so they can vote in the primaries.
Meanwhile, calculating how many registered “Ds” regularly vote “R” would take mega number crunching and cross tabbing that only a mathematician could love.
But a campaign story told by a central Kentucky Democratic candidate might provide at least some anecdotal insight.
The office seeker was going door-to-door in a Democratic primary. He was calling only at houses with registered Democrats.
One man quickly made it plain he was a Republican who voted Republican. The candidate told the constituent he was still a registered Democrat.
“He was rather indignant and said he had changed his registration some years ago,” the candidate said. “I asked him if he had gone to the courthouse or mailed in a new registration form – at that point online registration wasn’t very prevalent.
“He couldn’t recall when he had done so, but he was adamant that he had.”
The candidate — who won the primary and the general election — moved on to another house.
Added the candidate, “I had a few more like him but none of them were as indignant as he was. The other self-identified Republicans were like, ‘I guess maybe you’re right, I’m still a registered Democrat’ or ‘I just haven't bothered to change yet.’”
Why not is a worthy topic for pollsters and political scientists.
Said Hurt, “You’d think if you were proud to be a Republican and voted Republican, you’d want to be a registered Republican.”
Maybe so. But there is still wisdom in the closing lines of Judge James H. Mulligan’s immortal poem In Kentucky:
The landscape is the grandest –
And politics the damnedest –