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Kentucky Delegates to Democratic National Convention Split Support for Clinton, Sanders

Lisa Autry

A group of Kentuckians will witness history being made next week at the Democratic National Convention.  Hillary Clinton is expected to officially become the nation’s first female presidential nominee. 

Kentucky is sending 55 delegates and five alternates to the convention in Philadelphia.  Among them is Michele Thomas of Bowling Green who knows a thing or two about her party’s national conventions.  She was an alternate delegate for Hillary Clinton in 2008 and a delegate for Barack Obama in 2012.  Her face lights up just talking about the experiences.

“There’s just a poignancy in the air.  There’s exhilaration," says Thomas.  "You’re there with a lot of people excited about their candidate and who want their candidate to win.  It’s similar, but not the same as a football game like if Louisville plays UK.”

A corner of her home is a museum of sorts for Democratic politics.

“This is a poster from the 52nd presidential inauguration and it shows President Clinton and Al Gore at the inauguration," she points out.  "These are tickets to the inaugural balls.”

Thomas first met the Clintons at the 1993 inaugural ball for Bill when he was first elected president.  She also met Hillary during her 2008 campaign and most recently, in May, during a campaign stop in Bowling Green.

Thomas will be among 28 delegates from Kentucky on behalf of Secretary Clinton.  The retired professor and psychologist says Clinton is a different candidate than she was eight years ago.

“She’s deeper than she was in 2008 and I think that’s because she’s listened to so many people across the country and she cares," Thomas commented.  "I think she’s the candidate who will bring us together as a country.”

Clinton claimed a cliffhanger victory in Kentucky’s primary, winning by half a percentage point over Bernie Sanders.  The Vermont Senator endorsed Clinton for president last week, much to the dismay of his supporters.  One of them is Craig Astor of Hodgenville who calls Sanders a “once in a lifetime politician."

“I believe he’s genuine.  He’s honest, sincere, and I really believe that in the depth of his heart, he wants to do what’s best for all of America and not just for the top one percent," Astor said.

Credit Lisa Autry
Craig Astor of Hodgenville is a delegate to the Democratic National Convention.

Astor is among the 27 delegates from Kentucky attending the DNC for Sanders.  Speaking at the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace, he said Sanders’ message resonated with him more and hopes Clinton will adopt some of Sanders’ progressive platform.

“She has moved to the left," stated Astor.  "Will she be comfortable there?  That remains to be seen, and hopefully over the next three months she’ll be able to make her pitch to the American people, and not just the Bernie supporters, but the swing voters and independents in the key battleground states that will probably determine who wins the presidency this year.”

Astor is a new convert to the Democratic party, having been a Republican for 30 years.  He’ll serve as a delegate for Bernie Sanders at the DNC next week.  The aircraft mechanic for UPS says he’s looking forward to voting for Sanders one last time.  Astor thinks his campaign has been good for the party.

“Bernie Sanders supporters can hold their heads high because we were able to bring national attention to some of the dire issues facing our nation…wealth inequality, college student debt, single payer national healthcare," explained Astor.

Asked if he is ready to vote for Clinton, Astor was non-committal.

“At this particular time, I’d like to see who her running mate is going to be.  I’d like to hear her give some speeches, and I’d like to let her earn my vote.”

Astor doesn’t think Democrats are unified, but will be in time for the general election.  He compares the party to his family.

“My wife and I have four wonderful children, but I can’t say we’re unified on everything," he remarked.  "After 30 something years of being married to my wife, we don’t agree on everything, especially politically, but at the same time, we’re a family, and when it comes time to unify for the good of the family, we do that, and I think the Democratic party will do that come November.”

Michele Thomas thinks her party is already united and is confident most Bernie Sanders supporters will get behind Clinton.

“We need them, she stated.  "We want their enthusiasm and their support.”

Thomas says she never imagined the possibility of a female president in her lifetime.

“I remember the first day I was hired to be a university professor.  The dean said we’ve hired our first two girls and the whole audience laughed," Thomas recalled.  "They were predominantly male and everybody laughed at our introduction.  That was in 1973, so we’ve come a long way since that time.”

Ninety-six years after women won the right to vote, Hillary Clinton has the chance to win the White House.  She first must overcome a fierce general election matchup with Republican nominee Donald Trump.

Lisa is a Scottsville native and WKU alum. She has worked in radio as a news reporter and anchor for 18 years. Prior to joining WKU Public Radio, she most recently worked at WHAS in Louisville and WLAC in Nashville. She has received numerous awards from the Associated Press, including Best Reporter in Kentucky. Many of her stories have been heard on NPR.
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