THE BLOG
05/28/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Conservative And White, KY Dems Stay With Clinton

Save a few unlikely scenarios, pollsters and pundits have declared that Sen. Barack Obama will be on the presidential ticket in November. But despite his lead in delegates, superdelegates and the popular vote, Democrats in the bluegrass state are still turning out to support Sen. Clinton.

As recently as May 15, Clinton polled 36 points ahead of Obama in an American Research Group survey and many media reports attribute her continued lead to nothing more than old-fashioned racism.

"Race is still the elephant in the room, and the Rev. Wright issue hits at remaining racial prejudices and fears that people here might have," Saundra Ardrey, head of the political science department at Western Kentucky University, told The Huffington Post last week.

Donald Gross, who chairs the political science department at the University of Kentucky, agrees that race is a defining factor in this election and that the statements of Rev. Jeremiah Wright could explain why Clinton has widened her lead since the February primary in neighboring state Tennessee.

"Tennessee was before Rev. Wright and in the demographic we're talking about this creates problems for these voters," Gross said.

When Gross discussed Kentucky's demographics on the NPR program The Bryant Park Project last week, the show's Internet message board came to life.

"In a lot of the rural areas, literally a lot of these individuals have never seen African-Americans," Gross told NPR. "They don't interact with them."

Some listeners couldn't believe it was possible to live in the United States and not interact with racial minorities, but a homogenous population is a racial reality in the bluegrass state. Six of the ten least racially diverse cities in the country are in Kentucky, according to City-Data.com. And U.S. Census data shows that African Americans make up just 7.5 percent of the population.

It might be easy to chalk up Clinton's lead to a combination of demographics and racism, but D. Stephen Voss, a political science professor at the University of Kentucky who studies the nexus of race and politics, respectfully disagreed with his colleague.

"Trying to read the preference to Clinton and attribute it to race is unfair to her and the voters," Voss said. "It suggests if you were not a racist, you'd be voting for Obama."

Voss says that Obama's limited name recognition early in the campaign and the absence of an urban, African American base in the state meant he faced an uphill battle with Kentucky's lunch pail Democrats from the start, a hill so steep in fact that the senator has all but ignored Kentucky voters.

"The Obama camp very much carries with it a young, modern, progressive, Starbucks crowd," Voss said. "Kentucky doesn't have that large, progressive, voter group. They're worried about grandma, about jobs, and Clinton has spoken to those concerns more successfully."

David Miller, the chaplain at Union College, a small, Methodist university in the hills of southeastern Kentucky says there may be "some credence" to the race factor, but the character of the two campaigns may be why Kentuckians remain loyal to Clinton even in the face of likely defeat.

"Kentucky Democrats have really been conservatives," Miller said. "In this election, the party machine candidate is Clinton and the progressive candidate is Obama, that's just not resonating with Kentucky voters."