Officials hope that hotly-contested local campaigns and some national issues bring more people to the polls on Tuesday, but the question of whether there will be a “blue wave” or a “Trump wave” in Floyd County remains.
Kentucky has 200,000 more registered voters than it did during the last midterm election in November 2014, with increases in both the number of registered Democrats and Republicans, but that hasn’t happened in Floyd County.
There are 30,113 people registered to vote here in next week’s election — about 311 fewer voters than the last midterm election in Nov. 2014.
Floyd County voter rolls are stacked with Democrats, but over the past four years, more than 1,800 Democrats, or 7 percent of them, have changed parties, while the number of Republicans registered has increased by approximately 1,200, or by about 35 percent.
Even if Floyd County has 19,000 more Democrats than Republicans registered to vote Tuesday, this county overwhelmingly supported Republican President Donald Trump in 2016, giving him 73 percent of all votes cast. The year prior, however, Floyd County frowned on the opportunity to put Republican Gov. Matt Bevin in office, voting, instead, by a 1,000-vote margin, to give that seat to a Democrat who did not prevail in the race.
Dr. Thomas Matijasic, a professor of history at Big Sandy Community and Technical College, believes Floyd County Democrats switched parties because of what he called a “Trump wave” that occurred in 2016.
He also believes that’s why longtime state politicians lost their seats that year, but he doesn’t know how it will impact Tuesday’s turnout.
“As far as voter registration, I think that he has caused democrats to move to the right and many of them are actually switching party affiliation, because of President Trump. How much of that will affect the local elections, is really kind of up for grabs,” he said. “Clearly, it did affect the 2016 election. I can’t see Greg Stumbo being defeated had it not been for that Trump wave, and the same was true over in Johnson County with Hubert Collins. I think they were more beaten by a Trump Republican wave than they were beaten by anything else. How that will translate into this midterm election is a little more difficult to say.”
He believes Trump has helped the Republican Party in Eastern Kentucky and believes that fervor for America’s president will make a difference in other areas that have competitive congressional races, like Kentucky’s sixth district congressional race between Amy McGrath and Andy Barr, which has caught national attention.
“I do think he has helped the Republican Party in Eastern Kentucky and that a lot of people who are conservative Democrats are looking to switch registration, and he does seem to have a pretty fiery base, and the same is also true with a lot of Democrats who are anti-Trump,” he said. “By that I mean more liberal Democrats who are anti-Trump. They, too, are kind of fired up in opposition to him, and in defending what they think are the traditional values of the Democratic Party with regard to protecting social security and other things.”
He doesn’t believe Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers (R-Somerset) will be defeated on Tuesday, saying his race against democrat Kenneth S. Stepp and write-in Billy Ray Wilson is not competitive.
He believes voter enthusiasm will be high in some areas of the state, including Floyd County, pointing to the judge-executive race and the Prestonsburg mayoral race as examples.
Floyd County Clerk Chris Waugh is banking on that. He expected a large turnout for local races during the primary election, and was surprised with a 37.33 percent turnout.
“I don’t know, really, to be honest with you, what the turnout’s going to be. You hope for a good turnout, but you know, just like in May, I was hoping for a good turnout, but it didn’t happen,” he said. “A lot of people will vote on something that they hear a lot of about a race, or they get excited about a race or something, and there’s some races out there that are heavily, there’s a lot of advertisement and stuff like that, so you hope that it brings some people out, but you just don’t know.”
He and other county officials are encouraged because nearly 500 absentee and in-person ballots have been cast in the county so far, but Waugh said that number can’t indicate what Tuesday’s turnout will be because laws changed to allow people who are disabled to vote at the courthouse prior to Election Day. He does not believe that the local approval of Trump and his administration will bring more voters out in the county.
“A lot of times whoever is the president, either good or bad, it does make a difference in some people’s minds, when they go vote, but I don’t see that being an issue here in the county,” he said. “I think that works more on a national or even a state level because, locally, people know these people who’s running. They know them personally. On the state and national level, a lot of times, they don’t know and they may just depend upon their party.”
Matijasic also believes the local races will bring more voters to the polls. He said the county’s judge-executive race is “pretty much as guessing game” at this point.
In that race, Democrat James “Jimmy” Rose, who beat incumbent Judge-Executive Ben Hale in the primary election, is facing Republican John B. DeRossett and Independent Robbie Williams, an accountant.
Williams has outspent all other candidates in this race. The Kentucky Registry of Election Finance reports he’s received more than $90,000 in campaign donations and spent about $43,000 to date. Rose has received the second-highest amount, $18,600, but he’s only spent around $5,700, KREF reports, while DeRossett received $16,000 and spent around $15,500.
Williams has received more donations in that race than local state representative candidates. Larry Brown (R-Prestonsburg) and Democrat Ashley Tackett Laferty have collectively received about $57,600 for their General Election campaigns.
The KREF reports that Brown has received about $34,600 and spent about $13,800, while Laferty has received $23,000 and spent around $7,800 for the general election.
Midterm elections can be a bellwether as to what will happen in the next presidential election. Matijasic believes some Kentucky races could provide hints about the state’s next governor’s race.
“In this particular year, I think the midterms are very, very important because, you know, in 2016, for the first time since 1920, the Republicans took control of the Kentucky House. And so, there’s a large question as to whether voters approve of how they’ve handled the state in the last two years, or if they’re rejecting the way in which, the direction in which the state is going. And, if the Democrats regain control of the House of Representatives here in Kentucky, that will show a certain amount of disapproval towards Gov. Bevin. So, I think a lot of people are looking at this election as a preview for next year, when Gov. Bevin runs for re-election.”
He said some Republican candidates appear to be “distancing themselves” from Bevin.
“Larry Brown is, of course, touting his independence, particularly with regard to the reform of the teacher pension fund, and you can also see state Sen. (Brandon) Smith, who’s running for re-election. He is actually touting the fact that he’s been endorsed by the Kentucky Education Association and that he voted against changes in the pension formula. So, you have kind of an interesting dynamic that’s going on there, and I’m not sure it will work for those folks.”
He also believes some local votes will be cast on Tuesday based on how candidates feel about some national issues. He talked about Bevin and other politicians “kind of tying themselves” to Trump’s popularity, saying that may be a “plus for Republicans” in this region, but it could “work against them” in other parts of the state.
He said candidate stances on the use of medical marijuana and hemp could sway some voters, and he pointed out something he believes voters may not understand.
Matijasic said candidates in both major political parties appear to be addressing same kinds of issues in their campaigns, but he believes they have different approaches on some issues — and he is “not sure that message is really clear to the voters.”
“The commercials seem to be running, as they usually do, with candidates addressing things like economic development, battle against opioid addiction and that sort of thing, and, you know, you don’t really see a lot of differences between the two parties with regard to issues like that, but their approach to that, their approach to economic development, especially, is very different,” Matijasic said. “I think Republicans see deregulation—fewer regulations on business and lower taxes on businesses — as a way to lure companies here, while I think Democrats want to take a somewhat different approach and they don’t usually support lowering taxes on corporations, but rather using the money you get from taxes to publicize the state and prepare areas so that companies can come in and begin right away, begin manufacturing right away.”