LOUISVILLE — It’s tough being a Democrat in heavily Republican Laurel County. Just ask 81-year-old Bernice Chesnut of London.
“Yes, but I’ve never been ashamed to tell people I’m a Baptist and I’m a Democrat,” Chesnut said while waiting excitedly to hear her candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes and former President Bill Clinton here Tuesday.
Chesnut and Laurel County Democratic Party Chairman Roy Sizemore were among eight or so Democrats from Laurel and Knox counties at a table in a Galt House ballroom waiting for Democrats’ “Big Dog” to speak.
Chesnut is a Democratic election commissioner in Laurel County. She voted twice for Clinton and twice for Barack Obama and she is eager to vote for Grimes in her bid to unseat five-time incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell.
“I think Alison will be good for the state and good for the country,” Chesnut said. “She’s young and energetic.”
Sizemore is like a lot of Democrats who in past federal elections might not have been too optimistic about electing someone from his party to go to Washington. This time, he thinks, is different — Democrats are excited, he said.
“I haven’t found one Democrat down our way who’s against her,” Sizemore said. “And a lot of Republicans tell me McConnell’s been there too long. Some of them won’t vote for her but they may stay home.”
Herman Moore, of Corbin in Whitley County, which is also heavily Republican in registration, sat several tables away in the large ballroom which held more than 1,200. He thinks Grimes appeals to women of both parties.
“The women I talk to are really behind her, including some Republican women,” Moore said. “They just indicate to me they can’t vote (for McConnell). They say he’s been there too long.”
Of course that’s one of the themes of Grimes’ campaign: that after 29 years in office, McConnell is more concerned with his own power and job than with the issues confronting Kentucky families. She’s also apt to remind audiences that if elected she will be Kentucky’s first female U.S. senator.
That’s part of Grimes’ appeal to Faith Erdmann, 31, of Richmond. She’s a Democrat but is pleased to be able to vote for a woman Democrat, too.
But she conceded her excitement Tuesday was due to more than Grimes. She eagerly looked forward to Clinton’s appearance on the stage.
“I’m really more excited to see Bill Clinton today,” she said. “And from the chatter I heard coming in, that may be what drew a lot of people here today.”
They weren’t disappointed. Clinton talked for 25 minutes. He had a folder but didn’t seem to use any notes. He talked about knowing Grimes since she was 14; told the crowd he’d read her jobs plan “and there’s a lot of good ideas in here;” and said he roots for both the University of Kentucky and University of Louisville basketball teams.
He seemed to talk the language of Kentucky as well as of national politics and that was what Chesnut expected and wanted.
“We’re not too liberal,” she said, nodding at the people at her table. “We’ve all had to work.”
Now, she said, she plans to work to get votes for Grimes — even in heavily Republican Laurel County.
RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.