HAZARD — Republicans in Perry County helped make history on March 5, as they funneled into Hazard’s City Hall to cast their votes in Kentucky’s first ever Republican Presidential Caucus. According to the final tally, 849 registered voters made their voices heard in Perry County. The caucus sparked mixed emotions with the local people.
“It’s great to see Kentucky have a chance to help pick the president,” said one voter, “They usually know who has won the thing before we even have a chance to vote in the primary.”
The primary elections in Kentucky take place on May 17. That is when the Democrats will make their selection. Usually, each party already has a good idea as to who their nominees will be before voters in the Commonwealth are given an opportunity to make an impact on the process. Many citizens claim that Kentucky’s late date for the primary is the reason presidential candidates display a lack of desire for campaigning in the Bluegrass State, and their point might be proven by the fact that G.O.P. frontrunner Donald Trump scheduled a campaign rally in Louisville, only four days prior to this year’s caucus. Trump ended up carrying the state, and Kentucky delivered a much stronger impact on the Republican race moving forward than supporters of the caucus system might have imagined.
Kentucky’s Republican Caucus took place on a day that is known as Super Saturday. Four states held elections on that day, deciding which Republican candidate would receive their delegates in this year’s convention. Donald Trump and Ted Cruz finished in a tie with two states each. Without Kentucky’s participation, Cruz would have been the Super Saturday victor and perhaps picked up major momentum moving ahead. Since Kentucky went to Trump, the Super Saturday race ended in a tie for states and Donald Trump’s momentum as frontrunner remains intact.
But not everyone is pleased with this year’s change from primary to caucus. Facebook was flooded on March 5 with posts from local Republicans, who complained that having only one voting location discouraged voters living on the outer edges of Perry County from driving the long distance into Hazard. A few voters also expressed a lack of trust for the system, since they were placing ballots in a box, rather than logging their votes electronically.
Eighteen percent of registered Republicans voted in the caucus. Experts with the Kentucky Republican Party had anticipated a turnout of 15 percent, so participation exceeded the experts’ estimations, but not by much. Eighty two percent of Kentucky’s registered Republicans skipped the caucus. In Hazard, however, lines were backed up in City Hall throughout the day, with Republicans of all different age groups waiting to exercise their most basic American right.
Perry County continues to be a majority Democratic district. However, Perry County voters have been switching their party affiliation from Democrat to Republican over the past five years at a pace that is more rapid than ever before. Last week, former Perry County Judge Executive Denny Ray Noble, who served one term as a magistrate and four consecutive terms as judge executive in the Democratic Party, switched to Republican.
“I’m just not happy with the way things are going, nationally and locally” said Noble, “Our government is running out of control and if we don’t put a stop to it, they are going to destroy us. With all of the wasteful spending, they will completely break us and a lot of people will be hurting.”
Sen. Rand Paul is majorly responsible for the state’s transition to a caucus system for Republicans. At the time Paul pitched the idea, he was a candidate for president. But when Lexington Mayor Jim Gray decided to launch a campaign for the senate seat Rand Paul currently holds, Paul was forced to pick which race he preferred. So Paul cancelled his presidential bid and chose instead to defend his position in the United States Senate. But the caucus he helped create happened anyway, and although Paul was not an official candidate, he still received 0.38 percent of the total vote statewide, with non of those votes being cast in Perry County.
These are the numbers from Perry County in the Republican Caucus. Donald Trump was the overall winner with 49.18 percent of the vote. Trump won Perry County in a landslide as his closest competitor, Ted Cruz, finished second at 28.86 percent. Marco Rubio came in a very distant third with 10.63 percent of the vote. John Kasich did not trail Rubio by much. Kasich earned a 9.7 percent vote total. Ben Carson finished last with 0.82 percent of the vote. Carson announced he would not continue campaigning prior to Super Saturday.
The race between Trump and Cruz was closer statewide. Trump finished first with 35.92 percent of the vote. Cruz logged 31.57 percent. Rubio fell far behind for third place with 16.36 percent and Kasich claimed the fourth spot by drawing 14.43 percent of the vote.
Kentucky’s Democrats will have their turn on May 17. Republicans will announce their nominee for president at the Republican National Convention, which takes place this year July 18 to July 21 in Cleveland, Ohio.
Sam Neace can be reached at 606-629-3243 or on Twitter @HazardHerald.