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Kentucky's Democrats Sounding More and More Like Republicans

In a state where President Barack Obama’s policies are deeply unpopular among the electorate, Democrats have leapt for the center and some believe they might have overshot it.

A Pre-Fancy Farm Bluegrass Poll shows a tight race for Kentucky Governor with Democrat Jack Conway leading Republican Matt Bevin by just 3 points. Democrats also lead in four out of the five down-ticket races. But all of them are close.

This weekend, Fancy Farm Picnic emcee Matt Jones eschewed the traditional “keep it civil” remarks that usually open the picnic’s political speaking in favor of a 10-minute roast of every politician onstage - from Jack Conway’s hair to Mitch McConnell’s lukewarm affection for Matt Bevin. But Jones offered a particularly snide appraisal of outgoing Democratic Governor Steve Beshear’s accomplishments saying, “He cut $1 billion dollars from the budget, he privatized Medicaid, he appealed the gay marriage decision to the Supreme Court and he fought the EPA on coal. I gotta tell you, Governor, you’re the best Republican governor we’ve ever had in this state.”

Conway, in a move supported by national democrats, didn’t appeal the same-sex marriage decision. But from his current television ads… he too… kind of sounds like a Republican. In one, he’s touted as a fiscal conservative and says with a pleased smile that he sued President Obama – twice. And the word Democrat is never uttered. It’s not even in the tiny text at the bottom of the screen. This kind of obfuscation led University of Kentucky political science chair Ernest Yanarella to pen an op-ed for Sunday’s Lexington Herald-Leader imploring, quote, “Weak-kneed Dems” to quit running from their origins, “Democrats, I think, are going to continue to find themselves tromped at the polls as long as they don’t pose themselves as an alternative.”

To Yanarella’s point, Republicans currently hold both U-S Senate seats and five out of six U-S congressional districts, while Kentucky hasn’t been a presidential blue state in 20 years. Yanarella, who is a Democrat, says Conway is “stepping into the same groove” set by Alison Lundergan Grimes last year. Grimes infamously refused to admit whether or not she had voted for President Obama before losing to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell by more than 15 points.

“Her strategy failed precisely because she could not set herself off as a real independent voice and to defend those national policies.”

But how does a Kentucky Democrat embrace the policies of a president that is politically nuclear in the state? Kentucky Democratic Party chair Patrick Hughes, appearing at Marshall County’s night-before-Fancy Farm bean supper, said… it’s tough…“We’re dealing with a lot of rhetoric coming down from people who have different agendas. Lot of outside money coming into Kentucky, advancing things like right-to-work, trying to pin President Obama on everybody.”

Marshall County is one place where a right-to-work agenda is not being advanced. In fact, the Democratic bulwark is the only county in the state to approve an ANTI-right-to-work resolution. The fiscal court’s move was made in memory of the late judge-executive Mike Miller, who died last year after four decades in office. At Friday’s event, nearly every politician who took the stage paid tribute to Miller...

Miller never lost a precinct in Marshall County, but even his post is in danger of flipping to the GOP in this November’s special election. A Republican win in Marshall could perhaps be a sea change in western Kentucky politics. But there is some hope for Kentucky Democrats who sound like Democrats. Cailey Radcliffe, a recent Marshall County High School grad, received a party-sponsored scholarship at the bean supper and read from her essay on why she chose the Democratic Party…

“I support the Democratic platform, because I agree with their viewpoints on the issues the United States is facing – securing basic human rights and protecting the environment and allowing any and all Americans to pursue their dreams.”

It can’t be said that Radcliffe’s ideal party platform mirrored the candidates’ speeches that followed.