ANALYSIS | President Barack Obama's re-election hopes got a huge boost on Election Day 2011, as Kentucky Democratic Gov. Stephen Beshear coasted to an easy re-election, defeating a veteran Republican politician and a frequent independent candidate by a wide margin. This is good news for Obama for several reasons.
First, as Kentucky goes, so goes the Democratic Party's chances in the next election. Democrat Brereton Jones won his gubernatorial race in 1991, a year before Bill Clinton prevailed in 1992. Democrat Paul Patton's close victory in 1995 preceded Bill Clinton's successful re-election. Patton was re-elected in 1999, a year before the 2000 election. Yeah, Al Gore didn't win the contest against George W. Bush, but he won the popular vote.
Patton's scandal hurt the Democrat nominee Ben Chandler. He lost to Republican Ernie Fletcher in 2003, a year before Bush was re-elected. Then Beshear thumped Fletcher in 2007, a year before Barack Obama's historic win.
Of course, the state doesn't always go Democratic in the presidential elections. But if Republicans have to work to win it, that's less money for another state winds up flipping to the Democrats.
Second, four states that voted against Obama in 2008 held elections in 2011. Democrats won two of them: Kentucky and West Virginia. That doesn't bode well for Republicans. And, if you think about it, the other two states that picked the GOP (Louisiana, Mississippi) often go against presidential election trends over the same time frame.
In fact, given the showings in Louisiana and Mississippi, the Democrats should be scolded for being less effective in those states. Wins by Beshear in Kentucky and Tomblin in West Virginia demonstrate that being in a red state is no excuse. Other Southern state Democratic parties should take heed.
Third, Kentucky isn't some oasis of growth in a sea of slow recovery. In fact, Kentucky is a bit behind the curve when it comes to hiring. So it wasn't some rosy recovery scenario that gave Beshear another term in office.
Fourth, it isn't like Stephen Beshear was some political superman. The former Attorney General and Lt. Governor lost a gubernatorial primary in 1987. Senator Mitch McConnell thumped him in 1996 in an otherwise good year for Democrats. His victory in the 2007 primary was considered a shocker. As for the Republicans, David Williams was a veteran politician, and the state senate president. Williams' running mate Richie Farmer was a University of Kentucky basketball star. They should have done much better than this.
Fifth, it was a win for all Kentucky Democrats, as they won plenty of down-ticket races. Beshear's victory alone should unnerve Republicans. His margin of victory and the Democratic Party sweep shows that the GOP has its work cut out for them. They could ignore the contest, like they did in West Virginia. But history shows that it is a bad sign for Republicans next year.
John A. Tures is an associate professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga.
- Bill Clinton
- President Barack Obama