By Ronnie Ellis
CNHI News Service
FRANKFORT – I’ve been having great fun with my Republican friends. I keep asking them if Mitt Romney is right and President Barack Obama will carry Kentucky’s 5th Congressional District.
He won’t, of course. But by Romney’s logic he should.
The 5th District, represented by Republican Congressman Hal Rogers, has an awfully high percentage of folks Romney lumps into the “47 percent – those people will never vote for me.” His comments were caught on video during an unscripted speech to fundraisers in Florida.
The 5th also has a high percentage of people who depend on the federal government. Kentucky as a whole receives more federal aid than it pays in federal taxes. Rogers has become a hero in the 5th by bringing a lot of that aid back to his district.
Four years ago U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell campaigned against Democratic challenger Bruce Lunsford by reminding voters of his clout in Washington and his success at bringing federal aid back to the commonwealth.
Yet earlier this month, both stood before a Chamber of Commerce audience in Somerset, home to Rogers and a Republican stronghold in the 5th District, and told them Obama was Europeanizing the country and government programs are out of control. The audience loved it.
McConnell has been talking for months about the “half of Americans” who pay no federal income taxes, long before Romney’s comments were captured on video. In Somerset he said “when more people are in the wagon than pulling it,” the wagon can’t travel very far.
By now you’ve probably learned that the image Romney and McConnell are painting fits only about 10 percent of the population. The rest of “47 percent” pay payroll taxes that fund Medicare and Social Security or are elderly, recipients of Social Security – people like our parents who worked hard and paid taxes for years. But some who pay no taxes are actually millionaires. About 7,000 millionaires, according to the Tax Policy Center, pay no taxes.
Of course a lot of the folks in the 5th are still simmering about a similarly unscripted comment Obama made to San Francisco donors four years ago. He said some working class Americans, frustrated by their inability to climb the social ladder and an economy which didn’t seem to respond to their needs “cling to their religion and guns.” Republicans jumped on that just as Democrats have jumped on Romney’s 47 percent comment.
Kentucky and the 5th District are religiously conservative. A candidate won’t win many votes in either by promising gun control. Many Kentuckians are conservative Christians and some still harbor the belief Obama is a closet Muslim.
That may explain why so few of them object to Romney’s membership in the Church of Latter Day Saints in which he was a bishop. Mormons see themselves as mainstream Christians, but some conservative Christians are wary of them.
But Romney will carry Kentucky easily, and he’ll do even better in the 5th District. That’s fine. That’s what elections are about, choosing the candidate you think best reflects your values, the one you think is best for your country or best serves the interests of your state. Or just because you think the other guy is worse.
A few weeks ago, I had fun asking Kentucky Democrats if Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick was talking about them when he said at the Democratic National Convention that “it’s time for Democrats to grow a backbone and stand up for what they believe.”
This week it’s been the Republicans’ turn. I haven’t found many who agree with Romney that none of those 47-percenters in Kentucky will vote for him. But it’s fun asking them.
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/