By the numbers: How and where Ky. GOP voters turn out in recent U.S. Senate primaries

05/17/2014 04:29 PM

Now that the time before the May 20 primary is being counted down in hours instead of days, the focus is now squarely on Tuesday’s turnout.

And if Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes’ estimate of less than 30 percent turnout is correct, somewhere between 300,000 and 350,000 of the 1,196,183 Republicans will come out to vote.

But two of the last three election cycles in which incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell has been on the ballot have been during presidential election years, and both of those Republican primaries had even slimmer turnout.

In 2008, McConnell bested Tea Party Republican Daniel Essek, a truck driver, with 86 percent of the vote to Essek’s 13.9 percent. Only 19.7 percent of registered Republican voters turned out to the polls. McConnell had no GOP challenger in 2002, but he did have a challenger in 1996.

The 1996 primary was also a presidential election year, but a measly 15.7 percent of Republican voters turned out in that contest. McConnell cruised to victory in that contest with 88.5 percent of the vote over his challenger, Tommy Klein.

The 2014 expected primary voter turnout is less than 30 percent, according to Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.

Recent polling

While the polls don’t show McConnell destroying GOP challenger Matt Bevin the way he has recent GOP primary foes, they do still have him with a double digit lead.

The Bluegrass Poll sponsored by the Lexington-Herald Leader, Courier Journal, WKYT-TV, and WHAS-TV shows Bevin with an uptick in support from recent polling, but still trailing McConnell 55 percent to 35 percent. The poll was conducted by SurveyUSA, from May 14 to May 16, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

An NBC News-Marist poll conducted April 30 to May 6 showed McConnell up 57 to 25 percent over Bevin, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.

McConnell has used hundreds of thousands of dollars in commercial time to try to exploit some of Bevin’s stumbles, including answers about attending a cockfighting rally, listing MIT on his online resume and a business filing Bevin signed that expresses support for the 2008 bank bailouts.

Bevin’s Boone stronghold?

But Bevin’s core supporters have remained loyal even with the candidate trailing in the polls.

Boone County GOP chairman Brett Gaspard sent a letter to GOP voters in Boone County asking them to cast their ballots for Bevin.

“Matt Bevin is a true conservative who will support fresh leadership like Rand Paul, Thomas Massie and Ted Cruz, not work against them like our current senator. Please vote Matt Bevin,” Gaspard wrote.

Boone County boasts the second highest GOP registration of Northern Kentucky counties, where the Tea Party has been very active in recent elections.

Data from the 2010 U.S. Senate primary between Rand Paul and Trey Grayson might be a better indicator of turnout in this 2014 GOP primary, because it took place outside of a presidential election and is Kentucky’s most recent U.S. Senate contest.

In the 2010 primary the Northern Kentucky turnout averaged nearly 30 percent, which Bevin will need if can compete Tuesday night.

As Pure Politics has reported in the 2010 primary election, one out of every two registered Republicans in the heart of southern Kentucky’s “Old 5th” congressional district came out to vote.

A 14-county bloc made up the most fertile ground for Republican votes in 2010, drawing out nearly 50 percent of registered GOP voters. The region has less than half the population of Jefferson County, but still drew out nearly 28,000 more Republican voters.

Overall Republican turnout in 2010 was 34.7 percent with more than 363,000 of the 1 million registered GOP voters coming out to the polls.

Early absentee ballots show a strong interest in southern Kentucky in the 2014 election where ballots are filled with multiple candidates running for local offices.

On Friday, Bevin said he thinks low voter turnout favors him because, “the people that are passionate turnout.”

About Nick Storm

Nick Storm is the Anchor and Managing Editor of Pure Politics, the only nightly program dedicated to Kentucky politics. Nick covers all of the political heavyweights and his investigative work brings to light issues that might otherwise go unnoticed, like the connection between the high profile Steubenville, Ohio rape and a Kentucky hacker whose push for further investigation could put him in federal prison. Nick is also working on a feature length bio documentary Outlaw Poet: A documentary on Ron Whitehead. Follow Nick on Twitter @NickStorm_cn2. Nick can be reached at 502-792-1107 or



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