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Where are Northern Kentucky Democrats this fall? Over the river in Ohio volunteering for Clinton

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Posted at 6:00 AM, Oct 07, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-07 06:00:17-04

Sharon McLeod is a proud yellow dog Democrat who lives in Edgewood, Kentucky.

But this year she is campaigning for Hillary Clinton across the river in Ohio. McLeod is part of the regular migration of Kentucky Democrats who travel to neighboring Ohio to volunteer in a more exciting presidential battleground state.

“There’s not much chance that the red state of Kentucky is going to turn blue,” said McLeod, a newly retired hospital clinical director. “My heart is to work for a candidate who I feel strongly about in a state that is a battleground state.”

The Clinton campaign is capitalizing on that enthusiasm by contacting Democrats in Northern Kentucky and asking them to volunteer across the river in Hamilton County – a county that had been deeply red but turned blue in 2008 and 2012 to help Barack Obama win the presidency.

“The Clinton campaign is very savvy to motivate Kentucky Democrats to come across state lines, particularly to Hamilton County,” said Melissa Kary Miller, a political science professor at Bowling Green University.

Kila Hanrahan of Taylor Mill got a call from the Clinton campaign a few weeks ago, asking if she could help register voters in Cincinnati. She jumped at the chance.

“Ohio is such an important state, especially on a national stage,” Hanrahan said. “It’s a battleground state and I wanted to be there.”

While working on the campaign in Cincinnati, Hanrahan has met plenty other Northern Kentucky Democrats who are also volunteering.

That puts Col Owens, chair of the Kenton County Democratic Party, in an awkward position. While he supports any Democrat who wants to help Clinton in Ohio, there are also plenty of local candidates in Kentucky that could use help too.

There are two races in particular that Owens wants volunteers for: the U.S. Senate race where Lexington Mayor Jim Gray is making a long shot bid to unseat Republican Rand Paul; and the open seat race for Kentucky House of Representatives District 64, where Democrat Lucas Deaton is running against Republican Kimberly Moser.

Col Owens, chair of Kenton County Democratic Party.

 

“If people come to us and say, ‘I want to go to Ohio to work,’ we say, 'Terrific, God bless you and there’s the bridge,'” Owens said. “But if they say just say, ‘We want to work,’ I will say, 'We need you to work here.'”

Yet Owens is also realistic. He admits it’s not easy to be a Democrat in a very Republican state.

“We’re not stupid and we understand that Kentucky is not, by conventional wisdom, really competitive in a presidential race," Owens said. "Trump for better or worse will carry Kentucky by a pretty wide margin.

But Democrats in Northern Kentucky are still working hard this fall.

A year ago, Gov. Steve Beshear christened the first permanent Democratic Party headquarters in Northern Kentucky. Just last weekend Democrats from Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties came together for a Voter Blitz, drawing 60 volunteers who worked 200 hours.

After this presidential election, McLeod said she will return to her home state of Kentucky to volunteer for Democrats there once again.

“I do have friends who work for more state and local Democratic candidates in Kentucky, and that’s totally important also,” McLeod said. “When I’m asking if people want to come along across the river and they say they’re working for the Kentucky Democrats, I say, 'Great. Keep it up.’”

Hanrahan also isn’t opposed to volunteering in Kentucky, but no one has ever asked her to before.

“If someone in Kentucky had picked up the phone and reached out to me directly, I might be volunteering in Kentucky right now,” Hanrahan said.

The Clinton campaign’s strategy is to drive up their margin of victory in blue urban counties such as Hamilton, Franklin and Cuyahoga counties to balance out Trump’s support elsewhere in the state, Miller said.

“I think it’s enticing to Democrats in a deep red state to drive a few miles or an hour and put their energy into a state that’s actually winnable for Democrats,” Miller said. “The question is if Ohio is actually winnable to Clinton.”

Experts say while Clinton can win the White House without Ohio and has several paths to the necessary 270 electoral votes, the Buckeye State is a must-win for Trump.

"We've always known Ohio is going to be close," said Harrell Kirstein, Clinton's Ohio communications director. "That's why, from day one, we have focused on building a strong organization, recruiting volunteers and uniting people from all walks of life behind Hillary Clinton's vision for an America that is stronger together."

Trump has a two-point lead over Clinton in Ohio, according to the latest poll average from RealClearPolitics. This comes after she did not visit the state for nearly the entire month of September, opting instead to visit other swing states such as Florida and North Carolina.

“For the Democrats who come and campaign in Ohio, I hope they’re not disappointed this year,” Miller said.