Democrats on the decline in Kentucky
No Clinton coattails in the Bluegrass state
By John King/CNN
RICHMOND, Kentucky (October 27) -- The livestock auction is a way of life here in rural Kentucky, a tradition to be treasured. But not all things stand the test of time.
"First time you voted for one? Well, I appreciate that," Republican candidate Ernie Fletcher tells one man at the auction.
Fletcher is a Republican running for Congress, for a seat now held by a Democrat. He is running even, maybe a little ahead.
"I'll be here to give you that conservative leadership, and those kind of family values that made this country great," Fletcher tells voters.
President Bill Clinton narrowly carried Kentucky in 1992 and again in his 1996 re-election campaign.
But the president's party has hardly shared in his personal success. Not long ago, Democrats outnumbered Republicans four to two in Kentucky's six-member House delegation. Now it's a five-to-one Republican advantage. And nationally, the numbers paint a similar picture of a Democratic Party in decline.
Democrats held 57 Senate seats before Clinton took office six years ago, just 45 now. In the House, the number is down from 268 to 206, leaving Democrats in the minority in both chambers.
The party's problems are hardly limited to Congress. There were 28 Democratic governors in 1992, but only 17 now. And Democrats control 49 state legislative chambers, down 20 from six years ago.
One key factor in the Democratic decline in southern and border states is the disenchantment of white voters.
"Most of these white voters seem themselves as conservatives; they're certainly not liberals. They see Bill Clinton taking the Democratic party in a more liberal direction, certainly earlier in the decade, and they responded to that by voting for Republican candidates," says Merle Black of Emory University.
Sen. Wendell Ford is a reminder of how things used to be here and down into the Deep South. Ford is retiring after 24 years in the Senate, and was Kentucky's governor and lieutenant governor before that, a throwback to the days when being the Democratic candidate meant being the winner.
Now, Rep. Jim Bunning is looking to put Ford's Senate seat in Republican hands.
"I pledge to you that that's the way I will approach my job in the U.S. Senate," Bunning says. "I will do everything in my power to make your lives better in Kentucky."
The Democratic tradition runs deep in Kentucky's coal country and support there is critical as Senate contender Scotty Baesler fights to stem the Republicans tide.
"Folks, right here in Harlan County, you can make the statement you can come out of southeast Kentucky with a margin that's going to sweep all over Kentucky and we are going to put the Republicans out of here and that's why I need your help," Baesler told a recent Democratic rally.
Republican Rep. Anne Northup is a prime Democratic target this year, and the latest test case as Democrats running behind try to turn the impeachment debate in their favor.
Her opponent, Chris Gorman, says in a TV ad, "If you want to spend another two years investigating the president's sex life, vote for Anne Northup. After four years and $40 million, Anne Northup voted with Newt Gingrich to continue the investigation."
Democrats outnumber Republicans in Northup's Louisville district, so she's a voice of caution when a radio show caller brings up her role in the impeachment debate.
"Based on the evidence now, I would be very surprised if the president is impeached and I think the Republicans are very eager to get beyond this," Northup says.
Democrats are desperate for signs the worst is over, but Republicans like Fletcher have more than the midterm election odds in their favor: they also have more money to spend in the campaign's final days.
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