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Bill Straub: A look at Kentucky’s presidential primary May 19; R choice sure; D in the air, picking Sanders

As usual, this year’s presidential primary in Kentucky could be another case of closing the corral gate after the horse has escaped – the May 19 date comes so late in the candidate selection process that the results carry little or no impact in determining the parties’ eventual nominees.

There exists a possibility that scenario might change a bit this year, at least on the Democratic side, with eight candidates still jockeying for position, with three or four still holding a good-to-outside chance of carrying the party’s banner in November. If factors fall into place, and it appears that none of the contenders have rounded up sufficient delegates to determine the outcome, it could wind up the Commonwealth will finally have a say.

One area where there is no debate comes on the Republican side where President Donald J. Trump, aka President Extremely Stable Genius, aka President Great and Unmatched Wisdom, will gobble up all of the state’s GOP delegates. You would probably have to go back to Ronald Reagan in the 1980s to find a more popular standard-bearer, even though he has failed to deliver on his solemn vow to revitalize the moribund coal industry and foisted untold economic damage on agriculture as the result of his mind-boggling implementation of tariffs on China.

But explaining the dangers of a continued Trump presidency to his true believers – and they are legend – is like talking to a brick wall. Suffice to say that in a state where better than 87 percent of the residents are white, Trump is the white man’s candidate and he ultimately could wind up carrying Kentucky by better than the 30 percent margin he rolled up against Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016.

KyForward’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com

Predicting the outcome on the Democratic side at this early stage, sans any real polling data, is a fool’s errand – so I’m just the man for the job. Twelve candidates qualified for the ballot but four nobodies who never had a chance on God’s green earth have already withdrawn, leaving Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-New Hampshire, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-MA, former Vice President Joe Biden, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former South Bend, IN Mayor Pete Buttigieg (and may spellcheck continue to live a long, healthy life), Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-MN, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-HI, and businessman Tom Steyer.

There’s an overwhelming chance that some of those remaining on the ballot won’t make it to the May 19 roundup. Even if they remain for some unknown reason, Gabbard and Steyer are non-contenders, leaving six to vie for the 46 unpledged delegates up for grabs.

At first glance one might tend to eliminate Sanders, an avowed Socialist in a decidedly non-Socialist state who is not even really a Democrat – he has consistently run as an independent – and his left-leaning views don’t generally align with the party ethic in the Bluegrass, which continues to hew toward the moderate positions championed by the late Wendell Ford, who served as both a governor and in the Senate and was the c
Commonwealth’s most prominent politician of the last half-century.

But dismissing Sanders would prove premature, especially considering his early successes in the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary and his positioning in the upcoming Super Tuesday primary on March 3 when 14 states head to the polls. A whopping 1,357 of the 3,979 pledged delegates will be allotted that day and Sanders is almost assured of grabbing a fair share – RealClear Politics polling average has him ahead in California, the big prize, by 12 points.

And it should be noted this isn’t Bernie’s first dance in Kentucky. Despite almost universal support of the Commonwealth’s Democratic establishment – what there is left of it – Hillary Clinton bested Sanders by just half a percentage point in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary, leaving her with 28 delegates to Sanders’ 27, a virtual tie.

So it’s certainly fair to say Sanders has a halfway decent shot here. Another top contender would be Biden, who was a close Ford ally during their time together in the Senate. But Biden, after being viewed as the frontrunner when he entered the race, is fading, finishing in the middle of the pack in both Iowa and New Hampshire.

Biden is favored in the South Carolina primary on Feb. 29, thanks in large measure to his support among African-Americans, who make up 55 percent of the Democratic electorate in the Palmetto State. But an early 24-point edge has eroded considerably. The RealClear Politics average has his lead down to 3.4 points over Sanders and one poll has the two tied.

If Biden falls in South Carolina he’s probably a goner, although he’ll likely try to limp through Super Tuesday hoping to catch lightening in a bottle. But the chance for Kentucky Democrats to get an opportunity to vote for old Joe is looking a bit iffy at this stage.

Also staggering to a degree is Warren, who has campaigned hard and performed well in the various debates but has, for some reason, has failed to catch on, perhaps because those who might be attracted to her progressive message have decided to side with Sanders. Polls show her running third behind Sanders and Biden in Nevada and fifth in South Carolina, so it does seem she’ll have any momentum heading into Super Tuesday. She’ll likely win Massachusetts on March 3, but her chances elsewhere aren’t looking good.

Regardless, if she makes it to Kentucky, Warren doesn’t appear to be a strong contender.

That leaves Klobuchar, Buttigieg and, the real wild card in the race, Bloomberg, looking to capture the moderate vote. Klobuchar would seem to be a good fit for Kentucky given her midwestern background, experience and middle-of-the-road views. But she’s running behind others in the money derby and, because of that, her organization is spotty. She picked up some momentum in New Hampshire but she’s going to have to win at some point to carry on to Kentucky, a questionable proposition. But if she makes it to May 19 she may surprise.

Likewise Buttigieg, who hails from the neighboring state of Indiana, although South Bend has a whole lot more in common with Chicago than it does with Gravel Switch. Frankly, Buttigieg is difficult to handicap because most observers – this one included – have yet to figure out how the semi-successful mayor of a moderate-sized Hoosier town has wound up as a viable player in a Democratic presidential primary. Some things are inexplicable. Regardless, after strong showings in Iowa and New Hampshire, he is middle-of-the-pack in Nevada and South Carolina, fourth in California and not really showing up in any of the other Super Tuesday states.
But after a hot start Buttigieg will probably make it to Kentucky where he also is expected to vie for the moderate vote.

Which brings us to Bloomberg, the billionaire who is spending what amounts to the GNP of a small Asian nation to capture the nomination after skipping the first four primary contests.

And he just might pull it off.

Bloomberg is an interesting study as he moseys along trying to buy the stairway to heaven. As a Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-Independent-turned-Democrat he is certainly difficult to pin down. He is flooding the airwaves with ads and Kentucky’s state revenues could surge if he decides to dig deep in his pockets. But he also may stumble because much of his campaign is centered on gun control, anathema in the Commonwealth, even among many Democrats.

But Bloomberg, like Biden, Buttigieg and Klobuchar, if they all make it this far, will be focusing on capturing the moderate vote in Kentucky, leaving a path for Sanders, who performed surprisingly well in Kentucky four years ago. So, with Warren fading, make him the favorite.

On Bloomberg, however, it should be noted that Kentucky voters have fallen for the wiles of a foul-mouthed, rude, rich, white huckster from New York City in his seventies before. Could history repeat itself?

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