Who Is Kentucky? A Primary Tour in Black and White Sen. Hillary Clinton is expected to win Kentucky's primary Tuesday, a fact that one professor says is in no small part due to her opponent's non-white heritage. After all, the professor says, some students say they came to college never having met a black person.
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Who Is Kentucky? A Primary Tour in Black and White

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Who Is Kentucky? A Primary Tour in Black and White

Who Is Kentucky? A Primary Tour in Black and White

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Thank you, Mark. Well, the Kentucky Derby was a couple of weeks ago, but there is another kind of race being run next Tuesday. My word, have I just compared presidential candidates to thoroughbred horses?



PESCA: That may be unfair. In one, the participants' bloodlines are examined. Every inch of their physical makeup is explored. Vast sums are invested. They are broken, saddled, ridden to exhaustion and no one is imposing than a Man o'War. And in the other, the participants are horses!

(Soundbite of bah-dum bum)

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: But I digress, because next Tuesday, the state of Kentucky will hold its presidential primary, prompting us to ask, who is Kentucky? Here to give us the skinny on Kentucky is political scientist, Professor Donald Gross, from the University of Kentucky at Lexington, which is the big UK, with the Wildcats and all those guys. Hello, Professor.

Dr. DONALD GROSS (Political Science, University of Kentucky-Lexington): Good morning.

PESCA: Good morning. Kentucky, I know, is the Bluegrass State, but in the last presidential elections it has been pretty red. What is the political mix there now as you see it?

Dr. GROSS: Well, I think in terms of the upcoming primary, it's likely going to be another Hillary Clinton state. She is, you know, way ahead of Obama, and there's nothing really that is going to fundamentally change, that's going to, you know, give him a victory here. I think, you know, one of the things politically about the state it has tended up national level up to go Republican for the last number of years. At the state level, it's much more Democratic.

PESCA: And is that because of inertia or momentum on the state level? Or do state politicians not hit those national, political hot-button issues? Like, do they stay away from abortion?

Dr. GROSS: No, abortion - a lot of the social issues are often quite strong in Kentucky, but you know, Kentucky has this, you know, tradition of not only being Democratic but also leaning towards, I think, Southern values and a lot of social issues. It's heavily Protestant state, a more fundamentalist state. Baptists are very strong here. So, you know, like a lot of places, as you go down south, it tends to be socially conservative.

PESCA: Yeah, as we have done who is this - who is Kentucky and who is Indiana and who is North Caroline series, this comes up a lot, and states in the Shallow South, as opposed to the Deep South. Like North Carolina has that mix of sending Republicans to national office but having Democrats in state office. Same thing is true of Indiana. Why do think that mix is, in effect, in areas like the Midwest and like the South, where Kentucky has a foot in each area? Dr. GROSS: Well I think saying Kentucky has a foot in both areas is really important, because it truly is sort of a border state. If you go to, you know, just south of Cincinnati, it's very Northern in prospective, northern Midwestern. The same thing with Louisville, it's sort of a Midwestern river town. You move towards Lexington, the bluegrass area, it's more sort of a traditional gentile, Southern orientation.

Then you have the Appalachian Mountain regions in the east, and in the western part of the state, it's much more like southern Illinois and southern Indiana, and you see the sort of, again, very conservative Democratic orientation, of much higher levels focused on being pro-military, much more sort of patriotic in orientation. And it really drives, you know, way back in the Civil War, Kentucky initially declared neutrality in the whole war, and it sided with the North eventually in the war, but there was very strong sentiment throughout the state with the South, and after the war...

PESCA: There was even a breakaway government, for a time, actually.

Dr. GROSS: Yes, there was, and in fact, the neutrality actually held for awhile, and then actually the fighting sort of broke out in Lexington area. So after the war, it continued to have these pro-Southern orientations, and it was a slave state.

PESCA: So, what's weird about that, maybe, is that Barack Obama usually does very well in Southern states, although Kentucky has a very small black population. Let's get inside over this big 30-point lead that Hillary Clinton has over Barack Obama. What explains it?

Dr. GROSS: Well, I think race is clearly part of it, and the small population of African-Americans is a significant factor there. And perhaps one doesn't see the overt type of racism that one often thinks about, but I think in many parts in the state of Kentucky, people are a bit uncomfortable with African-Americans, especially in a lot of the rural areas. You know, literally, a lot of these individuals have almost never seen African-Americans. They don't interact with them. I know some of the polling indicates there's some very negative response to the Reverend Wright issue.

PESCA: Could I just back you up a second? Do you mean that literally, people never see African-Americans? Have you had experience with white Kentuckians who have told you that?

Dr. GROSS: Yes, at the university I have had students come in and literally say they've seen some African-Americans personally or talked with African-Americans 'til they came to Lexington. I mean, some of the rural areas, you know, sometimes there might be only be one or two African-American families in the entire county.

PESCA: Yeah. So Barack Obama is treated as something that they don't know how to get their heads around and maybe something a little strange.

Dr. GROSS: Yeah. You know, It's sort of - almost if you took someone out of a rural small town and you dropped them in the center of China, they're going to be a little bit uncomfortable with the people because they are not familiar with them, they don't interact with them, they don't perhaps understand them.

PESCA: Well, do they also like - do these people, the Kentuckians who are supporting Hillary Clinton, also perhaps like her policies on things like NAFTA and trade? Because I know, you know, the coal mines and some industries in Kentucky have been hard hit.

Dr. GROSS: Yeah. It is interesting notion on NAFTA because Kentucky does a number of exports, but over the last 15 years or so, Kentucky has lost a lot of manufacturing jobs, particularly in the textile industries to overseas. About, I don't know, 10 years ago, in one of our Senate races, that actually was a major issue, because one candidate voted in favor of NAFTA and candidate actually voted against NAFTA when he was in the House, and that sort of became an issue. So there were very sort of mixed feelings.

If one looks at something like union support, you see that quite strongly in the Louisville area, and then some of the eastern coalmines. But then in northern Kentucky and central Kentucky and other parts of the state, you know, there's a very negative orientation towards unions. You know, also the demographics people talk about, educational levels throughout the state tend to be a little below the national average. You know, there's a number of manufacturing jobs throughout the state, so the very people that people are talking about Hillary Clinton as appealing to, you know, there's a good segment of that in Kentucky.

PESCA: And is Obama even contesting this election, campaigning there, putting up ads and so forth?

Dr. GROSS: He was here about a week ago, but he had to cancel the second day of his visit. They keep talking that he may come back, but I doubt that he's going to be back in time for the primary. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton's been here. Her husband was here yesterday. I think they're talking about her coming back this weekend. So she is focusing on having a good victory here.

You know, one also has to remember that the Clintons have sort of a natural linkage to this particular area, because of the link with Al Gore in Tennessee, and you tend to have Kentucky Tennessee, West Virginia, Arkansas, that whole sort of strip area, the Clintons have always done fairly well in those areas.

PESCA: All right, Donald Gross, a professor of political science at the University of Kentucky at Lexington. Thank you very much, Professor Gross.

Dr. GROSS: OK, have a good day.

MARTIN: Stay with us. Next on the show, the winner of the BPP busking contest, his name is Balla Tounkara. He plays the kora. It's very cool. Stay with us. This is the BPP from NPR News.

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