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Winners and Losers: What are the Political Implications of the Recent Kentucky Republican Caucus?

On March 5, 2016 Kentucky held its first Republican political caucus in modern times.

Donald Trump won the state. Ted Cruz made a strong penetration into the state. Governor Bevin lost power in this race as did Senator Mitch McConnell. In a strange way, Senator Rand Paul gained more national power base.

Trump won 80 counties in Eastern Kentucky and Central Kentucky. Cruz took 40 counties primarily in Northern Kentucky and Western Kentucky.

Seven of the eight counties of the Jackson Purchase went for Cruz. Only Fulton County went for Trump. Cruz won 19 counties west of I-65 or some 48 % of his total in Kentucky. Below is the vote data for how the counties of the Jackson Purchase voted in the caucus.

County Cruz % Trump % Rubio % Kasich % GOP Regis. Vote %

Ballard 164 (51) 94 (30) 29 (9) 25 (8) 1,112 312 (28)

Calloway 607 (37) 438 (27) 284 (17) 264 (16) 6,940 1,593 (23)

Carlisle 124 (62) 44 (22) 27 (13) 6 (3) 730 201 (28)

Fulton 56 (35) 66 (42) 19 (9) 20 (12) 779 161 (21)

Graves 671 (50) 407 (30) 152 (11) 105 (8) 5,245 1,335 (25)

Hickman 198 (59) 88 (26) 24 (7) 24 (7) 624 334 (54)

Marshall 725 (47) 503 (31) 223 (14) 140 (9) 5,826 1,591 (27)

McCracken 1,525 (43) 1,022 (29) 507 (14) 440 (12) 14,562 3,494 (24)

Totals 4,070 2,618 1,265 1,024 35,818 9,021 (25)

Percentage 45 % 29 % 14 % 11 %


Senator Mitch McConnell lost power

Why? His brand of conservatism and Republicanism was pushed aside as the bible evangelism factor took 40 counties in the name of Senator Ted Cruz. These voters are not tea party.

More and more, McConnell's actions over the past seven years as being the major blocking factor on any President Obama's appointments, policies, or programs is starting to unravel his power. History will record Washington D.C. Congressional dysfunction as a direct link to the senior senator from Kentucky.

A Trump victory in Kentucky signaled a reputation of McConnell's character of being a Chamber of Commerce safe Republican. Increasingly, Mitch is third man out from being the major Republican power in Congress and at home.

Senator Ted Cruz gained power

Why? He ran a campaign that united Northern KY., Central KY., and Western KY evangelistic voters in a true hard core far extreme section of what passes for a modern Republican Party. These people support the Noah's Ark tourism project in Northern KY. They meet the test of being a typical Cruz voter. These people live deeply in religious doctrine, support gun rights, and want all government out of their lives.

Increasingly, their view of Mitch McConnell is that he is not conservative enough and has become part of the problem in Washington D.C.

Senator Rand Paul gained power

Why? Paul is becoming more and more a powerful force in waiting behind the scenes, for a brokered Republican Convention in Cleveland this summer. The thinking is that Trump will force or bully all of his current opponents into "kissing the ring of the King." Chris Christie and Ben Carson have bent the knee to the frontrunner.

Rubio, Bush, and the Republican Establishment will align themselves into an unholy crusade to stop Trump from becoming the Republican standard bearer for President.

Remember that Rand Paul only suspended his campaign. This leaves the door open where he could lead a major part of the party in a last moment vote on the convention floor to block Trump. Or, on a second ballot, Rand Paul could appeal to the young, libertarians, senior citizens and all who want less government to back him as the "Compromise Candidate."

This scenario will be thought of more and more if Trump loses Ohio, California, Wisconsin, New York, Illinois, and Pennsylvania. If Trump loses on the first ballot, all delegates are released for the second ballot. At that moment, all bets are off as a total new political world is born.

Governor Matt Bevin lost power

Why? He is becoming more open and comfortable with his base and core beliefs of Tea Party 101: cut government. This approach of a rapid and radical budget cutting answer to the problems of state government is scaring more and more people each day.

These caucus elections identified three types of Republicans in Kentucky: (1) old guard chamber of commerce status quo (2) tea party who want some government changed or done away with, and (3) a Ted Cruz section of the party that is steeped within hard core evangelism and want all government out of their lives.

Governor Bevin may be standing on the wrong side of history as Kentucky evolves into a new type of political reckoning. As a creature of the tea party, Bevin is running on principles and platforms that are approaching 10 years old. In modern terms, a decade in politics is forever in scope. This caucus election will have set in motion massive cracks within the new governor's ability to govern.

Final Thoughts

This recent experiment in direct politics may have opened the door on how Kentucky is emerging into a unique brand of modern political regionalism. Rapidly leaving center stage in Kentucky power base politics is King Coal, powerful utilities, monolithic urbanization in Louisville, Lexington, and Northern Kentucky. As this future is changing our concepts of economic development it is also redefining who we are as a people.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

A modern urban corridor from Louisville through Frankfort and into Lexington will provide a high tech future world for the state. This also happened in the time period from 1840 up to 1860. Once again urban progress is transforming the state. At the same time, the counties and region of far West Kentucky are moving closer and closer to the 1861 Confederate state model of Kentucky when 26 counties formed their own Confederate state.

Whatever is to be our future, the Republican Caucus elections open a door onto massive realignments of Kentucky power politics.

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