Kentucky Democrats must regroup after losing state House and appeal to blue-collar voters, Chandler says

11/17/2016 07:30 PM

Former Democratic Congressman Ben Chandler sees a tough road ahead for Kentucky Democrats after they lost their grip on the state House of Representatives for the first time since 1921 in this year’s election cycle.

Chandler, the president and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, says Democrats need to focus on trade and blue-collar issues in future election cycles if they hope to regain the House, which Republicans will control come January after picking up 17 seats en route to a 64-36 supermajority.

“I think it’s going to be very difficult for Democrats to get it back now,” he said in a recent studio interview with Pure Politics. “I really do. It’s not surprising though, to be honest with you, because we’ve been trending this way for a long time. Ever since I’ve been around politics, and I’ve been active in Kentucky politics in one way or another for 25 years, and it’s been trending this way the entire time.”

The reason, Chandler says, comes down to demographics. Kentucky is about 88 percent white, according to 2015 U.S. Census estimates.

“This is not any secret to anybody,” he said. “You can see it in any poll that you want to take: White voters have moved very strongly away from the Democratic Party.”

Trade may be an issue that Democrats can seize in future campaigns, and Chandler says he thinks that subject “was the secret to Donald Trump’s success.”

“Indisputably, you’ve had blue-collar people in this country left out, to a large extent, in the new global economy that’s been created over the last couple of decades,” Chandler said.

“We’ve had an enormous number of blue-collar jobs lost. You saw the reaction in the Rust Belt. That’s what carried Donald Trump to victory, and what we’re talking about is blue-collar workers — not just white blue-collar workers, but blue-collar workers generally – have moved against the establishment.”

Chandler, the grandson of former Gov. Happy Chandler who unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2003 after serving as Kentucky’s attorney general and auditor, says he’s happy in his current role advocating for healthcare in the state in a nonpartisan fashion.

Asked if there was another political campaign in his future, Chandler said he’s focused on his current job with the foundation.

“I know what I want to do, and I want to make our people healthier,” he said.

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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