A Tale of Two Democratic Primary States The upcoming Oregon and Kentucky primaries are near perfect illustrations of the two separate wings of the Democratic Party. Affluent, green and antiwar Oregon is expected to support Illinois Sen. Barack Obama. Kentucky's rural, blue-collar population will help New York Sen. Hillary Clinton.
NPR logo A Tale of Two Democratic Primary States

A Tale of Two Democratic Primary States

Three young supporters listen to Illinois Sen. Barack Obama speak during a rally at the University of Oregon, May 9. Mark Wilson/Getty Images hide caption

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Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Illinois Sen. Barack Obama signs books and posters at a campaign rally at Summit High School in Bend, Ore., May 10. Mark Wilson/Getty Images hide caption

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Mark Wilson/Getty Images

People listen as New York Sen. Hillary Clinton speaks at the Kentucky Democratic Party dinner, May 8. Joe Raedle/Getty Images hide caption

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Joe Raedle/Getty Images

You could scarcely find a better illustration of the two disparate wings of the Democratic Party than the upcoming primary states of Oregon and Kentucky.

Oregon is affluent, green and antiwar, with a large college-age population. Politically, the state is seen as a liberal leader in everything from bike trails to assisted-suicide legislation. The state has just two Republicans in its congressional delegation of seven, and the most prominent, Sen. Gordon Smith, recently turned against the Iraq war.

Kentucky represents the other side of the coin for the Democrats: rural and blue collar, with a long history of dependence on coal. The state twice voted for former President Bill Clinton but has otherwise voted for Republicans in five of the last seven presidential contests. Academics compare its demographics to West Virginia, where New York Sen. Hillary Clinton won the primary with 67 percent of the vote.

No one is disputing that Obama will take Oregon; the only question is his margin of victory.

"The early polling was 4 to 6 percentage points in his favor. The later polls have been 14 to 15 percent. I'm expecting it will be somewhere in between," says Kevin Smith, a political scientist at the University of Oregon.

Kentucky is "going to be another Hillary Clinton state," says Donald Gross, a political science professor at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. "She's way ahead of Obama, and there's nothing really that's going to fundamentally change to give him a victory."

With Kentucky secure, Clinton has felt free to go after Obama's territory, making lots of campaign stops throughout Oregon on Friday and Saturday. Her husband has spent time in the rural eastern areas of the state, known for their agricultural and timber industries, as well as for their Republican political leanings.

"I have been surprised by the degree to which the Clintons have emphasized Oregon, since it seems like a pretty clear case that Obama will win," says Robert Sahr, a political scientist from Oregon State University. "The Clintons are hoping to cut the margins."

Even though Oregon favors Obama and Kentucky leans heavily toward Clinton ahead of Tuesday's races, political scientists warn that neither Democrat can count on either state in the general election.

The majority of Kentuckians who register with a party choose the Democratic label, but the state is quite comfortable voting Republican in statewide contests.

"Clinton should win convincingly on Tuesday in Kentucky," says Joe Gershtenson, a political scientist at Eastern Kentucky University. "But both Hillary and Obama are running behind McCain in the general election straw polls."

And while Oregon's urban centers of Portland, Eugene, Salem and Corvallis are seen as liberal, the state overall has a long Republican history with an independent streak. It only began to shift Democratic in the late 1980s.

With material from the Associated Press

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