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North Carolina vs. Kentucky: A Snapshot of How Racial and Economic Politics Shape the Democratic Vote

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Hillary Clinton is facing one sure roadblock on her way to a clean sweep through the South Dakota and Montana primaries on June 3rd. That state is North Carolina, where Clinton has trailed Barack Obama by double digits in six of nine nonpartisan polls conducted since her wins in Ohio and Texas.

Clinton is expected (at least, by Smart Politics) to post big wins in Pennsylvania (April 22nd), Indiana (May 6th), West Virginia (May 13th), and, of interest to this entry, Kentucky (May 20th).

While Kentucky is located a tad northwest of North Carolina, these southern states offer a simple, but persuasive explanation as to why Clinton will trounce Obama in the former, but is struggling to get within single digits in the latter. While the data below from the U.S. Census is not broken down by partisanship, it is evident which state generally caters to each candidate's base of support.

To begin with, Kentucky is a more rural state, a positive demographic for Clinton (in primaries, not caucuses). In the Bluegrass State there are 101.7 persons per square mile, compared to 165.2 in North Carolina.

Obama performs particularly strong among the wealthier (Democratic) populations. Kentucky, however, is a poorer state with a median household income of nearly $4,000 less ($37,046) than in North Carolina ($40,863). The percentage of residents who live below the poverty level is also notably higher in Kentucky (16.3 percent) than in North Carolina (13.8 percent).

Obama also performs very well among more educated populations, and the percentage of residents who have earned a high school diploma is 4 points higher in North Carolina (78.1 percent) than in Kentucky (74.1 percent). Likewise, the percentage of residents who have received a Bachelor's degree is much higher in North Carolina (22.5 percent) than in Kentucky (17.1 percent).

Finally, and most importantly, North Carolina is home to approximately three times as many blacks (21.7 percent) as Kentucky (7.5 percent), based on the percentage of each state's population. Obama is drawing support of 80 to 90 percent of blacks in most primaries.

The result: Obama boasts double digit leads among likely voters in North Carolina in recent polls by InsiderAdvantage (15 points) and LA Times / Bloomberg (13 points). SurveyUSA, meanwhile, has just staked Clinton to a 36-point lead in Kentucky, 62 to 26 percent.

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Remains of the Data

Strange Bedfellows: A Historical Review of Divided US Senate Delegations

Over the last century, states have been twice as likely to be represented by a single political party in the U.S. Senate than have a split delegation; only Delaware, Iowa, and Illinois have been divided more than half the time.

Political Crumbs

Haugh to Reach New Heights

The North Carolina U.S. Senate race between Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan and Republican Thom Tillis may go down to the wire next Tuesday, but along the way Libertarian nominee Sean Haugh is poised to set a state record for a non-major party candidate. Haugh, who previously won 1.5 percent of the vote in the Tar Heel State's 2002 race, has polled at or above five percent in 10 of the last 12 polls that included his name. The current high water mark for a third party or independent candidate in a North Carolina U.S. Senate election is just 3.3 percent, recorded by Libertarian Robert Emory back in 1992. Only one other candidate has eclipsed the three percent mark - Libertarian Christopher Cole with 3.1 percent in 2008.


Gubernatorial Highs and Lows

Two sitting governors currently hold the record for the highest gubernatorial vote ever received in their respective states by a non-incumbent: Republican Matt Mead of Wyoming (65.7 percent in 2010) and outgoing GOPer Dave Heineman of Nebraska (73.4 percent in 2006). Republican Gary Herbert of Utah had not previously won a gubernatorial contest when he notched a state record 64.1 percent for his first victory in 2010, but was an incumbent at the time after ascending to the position in 2009 after the early departure of Jon Huntsman. Meanwhile, two sitting governors hold the record in their states for the lowest mark ever recorded by a winning gubernatorial candidate (incumbent or otherwise): independent-turned-Democrat Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island (36.1 percent in 2010) and Democrat Terry McAuliffe of Virginia (47.8 percent in 2013).


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