Analysis: Undercurrents of independence flow through 6th District

07/28/2010 07:44 PM

Voters in Central Kentucky, where registered Democrats out-number Republicans, are sharply divided over which party they’d like to see control Congress, the cn|2 Poll shows.

At the same time, President Barack Obama remains unpopular and a slight majority of respondents expressed a favorable view of the tea party movement — which has been a national force within the Republican ranks. Yet Democratic U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler starts the general election with a 14-point lead over Republican challenger Andy Barr if the Nov. 2 election were held today, according to the results.

All this points to swirling political forces that should give Chandler both comfort and concern heading into the fall, political observers said. Barr and Chandler now will be tasked with navigating this complex political landscape of the 6th District, which includes the urban area of Lexington, as well as rural counties such as Powell, Garrard and most of Lincoln. It’s a district that has 58% registered Democrats, but voters have been equally comfortable sending Democrats and Republicans to represent them in Washington, depending on the candidate and the climate.

Prominent Central Kentucky Democrats said some of the cn|2 Poll’s results should be read as good news for Chandler.

“All the talk has been in the press that this was going to be an anti-incumbent year and it was going to be tough for Democrats,” said Bill Garmer, a Lexington lawyer and former Kentucky Democratic Party chairman. But he said he didn’t believe the results of questions about which party should control Congress or Obama’s approval rating showed an overwhelming anti-Democratic wave.

From the cn|2 Poll on the 6th District (Click here to view the poll’s methodology and crosstabs):

Q. Which party would you rather see in control of the U.S. House of Representatives after the November election, the Democrats or the Republicans?

And here’s the results the Obama-approval rating question in the 6th District:

Q. What is your opinion of the job President Barack Obama is doing?

  • 17.1% strongly approve
  • 29.4% somewhat approve
  • 13.3% somewhat disapprove
  • 37.0% strongly disapprove
  • 2.4% don’t know

The largest chunk of respondents fell in the “strongly disapprove” column, but the numbers were better for Obama than his statewide approval rating, which cn|2’s statewide poll showed last week.

But that 37% who strongly disapprove of Obama indicates that more passion, and thus momentum, is going against Obama. That should be a concern for Chandler, who endorsed Obama in 2008, said Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and former political writer for the Courier-Journal.

“This is an election about intensity,” Cross said. “I think it’s important for Barr to talk about Obama to get his vote out.”

Terry McBrayer, a Lexington lawyer and lobbyist and representative to the Democratic National Committee, said Barr would need those numbers to be more lopsided in order to mount an effective campaign against Chandler.

“Other than Obama and (House Speaker Nancy) Pelosi, what do you have against Chandler that sells?” McBrayer asked rhetorically.

McBrayer also said he thought it was a good sign that Chandler led Barr among moderates with 58%.

“Chandler’s philosophy matches the 6th District, in my judgment. He’s a moderate … and the moderates are going to tick with Chandler because he hasn’t done much to upset them,” McBrayer said.

Some other potential bad news for Chander includes:

  • A higher percentage of liberals and moderates disagreed with Chandler over his vote against than health care bill than the ones in those categories who agreed with his vote.
  • 47.1% of respondents identified themselves as having a conservative philosophy (either somewhat or very conservative) compared to 24.5% who called themselves liberal and 26.3% who declared themselves moderate.
  • Obama’s approval rating exceeded 50% in just two of the district’s 16 counties – Fayette (58.7%) and Franklin (57.3%).

Carol Rogers, the Fayette County Republican chairwoman, also said it bodes well for Barr that just 46.1% were prepared to vote for Chandler.

“You would think that an incumbent congressman would have better favorability ratings than he did,” Rogers said.

She also said the effect of the tea party movement will play a role in motivating conservative voters and keeping the race focused on issues and stances, rather than personalities and famous political names like “Chandler.”

Overall, the cn|2 Poll results showed slightly more than 50 percent of respondents saying they had a favorable view of the tea party movement.

But drilling into the numbers, it clearly has a polarizing effect with21.8% of respondents saying they had a very favorable view of it while 21.6% had a very unfavorable view.

- Ryan Alessi


Subscribe to email updates.

Subscribe and get the latest political intelligence delivered to your inbox.