50 States in 50 Days Election Preview: 15. Kentucky

In the 50 days leading up to the election on November 6th, I will be doing a profile of the 50 states and previewing what is on the ballot and how they are likely to vote. All of the posts so far can be found here

15. Kentucky

Capital: Frankfort

Nickname: Bluegrass State

Motto: United We Stand, Divided We Fall

About the State

Native Americans had inhabited the land that now makes up Kentucky, but by the time Europeans arrived there, no settlements existed and the area was used as a hunting ground by the Shawnee, Cherokee and Iroquois tribes. By the Revolutionary War, Kentucky was a part of the colony of Virginia and during the conflict, an influx of people moved to the area West of the Appalachian mountains, including the famed American frontiersman, Daniel Boone. The colonists introduced agricultural production to the region and grew tobacco, corn and hemp. They had many conflicts with the Native Americans over the land, which led to the Shawnee siding with the British during the war. After 1776, the region became known as Kentucky County, Virginia, until, in 1792, the people opted to separate and form their own state, which they did on June 1st.

Kentucky had a slave population, who were mainly forced to work in the labour intensive production of tobacco and hemp, but also in mining. During the Civil War the state started off as neutral, but ultimately remained loyal to the Union. Being on the border between the North and South, Kentucky was strategically vital to both sides during the conflict. President Lincoln – who was born in the state – is reported to have acknowledged this in 1861 by stating, “I hope to have God on my side, but I must have Kentucky”. Within the state, there was an internal conflict as to which side they should be supporting, with some Southern sympathisers trying to form an alternative Government that would pursue a course of secession. Following the 1862 Battle of Perryville – the biggest conflict to take place in Kentucky – the Union Army was able to retain control of the state for the rest of the war.

In the second half of the 19th century, the mountains of Kentucky became known for their feuds, the most famous of which was the one between the Hatfields (of West Virginia) and the McCoys (from the Bluegrass state). As was the case with many of these rivalries, the division had its roots in the Civil War, with people who had fought for both the Confederate and Union armies now living alongside one another.

In the early 1900s, the Black Patch Tobacco Wars took place in Kentucky, when the farmers united together to refuse to sell their crop at the low prices that the company that controlled the industry forced upon them. A group called the Silent Brigade (whom the press dubbed “Night Riders”) took action against those who continued to sell tobacco, burning down warehouses and governing by mob rule, until the Governor was forced to deploy the Kentucky National Guard to stop the vigilantes. Eventually, the case went to the Supreme Court in the 1911 case of United States vs American Tobacco Co, in which the bench ruled that the company did have indeed a monopoly and had violated Anti-Trust laws.

Alongside agricultural production, Kentucky’s economy is centered around energy production – from both coal mining and uranium enrichment – and car manufacturing, in which it ranks fourth in the nation, with Toyota, Ford and Chevrolet all having plants in the state. It is also known for its bourbon – Jack Daniels, Jim Beam, Wild Turkey, Maker’s Mark and many others are all distilled in Kentucky. The state is also renowned for horse breeding and racing – the Kentucky Derby, held in Louisville each May, is the most prestigious equine race in the United States.

Kentucky is ranked 37th largest in the US in area and 26th in population, with just over 4.3 million residents. The state was the birthplace not only of President Lincoln, but also of Jefferson Davis the President of the Confederacy. In 1900, William Goebel, the only Governor to have been assassinated in office, was shot and killed in downtown Frankfort. The aptly named Mammoth Cave is the longest cave in the world, while the town of Middlesboro is the only one that is built within a meteor crater. Kentucky has counties that are both dry (where the sale of alcohol is not permitted) and wet (where it is allowed) and, ironically, Bourbon Country is dry, while Christian County is wet.

Presidential Race

Electoral College Votes: 8

2008 Result: McCain 57.5% Obama 41.1%

Latest Poll: Romney +14%

2008 marked the first time since 1960 that Kentucky had given its Electoral College Votes to the loser of the Presidential election. Although the state voted for President Clinton in both 1992 and 1996, no Democrat candidate has come within 10 percentage points since then and Governor Romney will win there in November.

Also on the Ballot

Congress: There are no Senate elections in Kentucky in 2012. The state has 6 seats in the House of Representatives, of which four are currently held by Republicans, with the Democrats having two. This year, the closest race will be in the 6th district, where incumbent Rep. Ben Chandler (D) is up against the GOP candidate, Andy Barr. Chandler, a fiscally conservative Democrat, is currently slightly ahead in the polls and expected to win a fifth term in Congress.

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