By John David Dyche
Kentucky Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo's sad, sometimes incoherent, and unintentionally comical Election Night speech to his party's faithful remnant marked a low point in state Democratic Party history. So far.
The strange Stumbo spectacle is available on Kentucky Educational Television's website. We can only speculate on the reason for this rambling, cringe-worthy, and quasi-religious rant.
Stumbo was probably suffering political shellshock from the pounding his party was suffering. He reacted badly upon realizing the long Democratic dominance of the state House of Representatives, and hence his personal power, will soon disappear.
It is hard to imagine Stumbo sticking around after Democrats are in the minority. He has inflicted so many indignities on Republicans that he dares not risk being on the receiving end of reciprocal treatment.
Stumbo perfectly personifies the alliance of plaintiffs' lawyers, labor unions, and other assorted liberals that the Kentucky Democratic Party has become in the Barack Obama era. After holding onto power longer than Democrats in similar Southern and some Midwestern states, their political irrelevance is at last imminent.
The Louisville and Lexington newspapers, longtime liberal allies, can no longer help carry Democrats outside the state's urban centers. Indeed, Republican Matt Bevin badly beat Democrat Jack Conway for governor despite not garnering any major newspaper endorsements.
Democrats did eke out two wins, both by dynastic heirs named Beshear and Lundergan. Yet their best and brightest hope for the future, state auditor Adam Edelen, unexpectedly lost despite having done a superb job in the post.
History is full of political comebacks. While Edelen has what it takes to rebound, Conway, a prior loser for the U.S. House and Senate, has likely been on his last ballot.
Pillars of the past, like outgoing Governor Steve Beshear, outgoing Lieutenant Governor Crit Luallen, and former Lieutenant Governor turned-Obama administration bureaucrat Jerry Abramson, are spent forces. Former Democratic strongholds in Western and Eastern Kentucky have turned Republican.
Republican registration has been gaining on Democratic for years. As football coach Howard Schnellenberger used to say, the only variable is time before the GOP overtakes its rival for the first time in commonwealth history.
It used to be conventional wisdom that Kentuckians should register Democrat so they could vote in the primaries that usually determined the general election victor. Soon Republicans may benefit from that belief.
There will probably be party switching by some conservative Democrats desiring to save their state House seats. The red Republican wave is also washing over counties and their offices.
So what are Democrats to do? Will the wildly unpopular Obama's departure from the White House be enough to reverse their decline?
It may help a little, but Kentucky Democrats will still be linked to their increasingly liberal national party. After all, Hillary Clinton embraces the Obama administration legacy she helped shape and Bernie Sanders, an avowed socialist seeking the presidency, is wildly popular.
Kentucky Democrats may benefit from Republican in-fighting like the state's GOP occasionally did from Democratic factionalism during the last century. Relying on feuds in the other party is not a dependable formula for success, however.
Another immediate concern in addition to losing the State House is fielding a candidate against Republican incumbent Rand Paul for the U.S. Senate next year. Edelen was slated to be that challenger, and could conceivably still do it, running to Paul's right on national security in the process, but his loss makes that unlikely.
Tapping Louisville mayor Greg Fischer would be the (bike) path of least political resistance. He has a base, fundraising connections, money of his own, and is not notoriously liberal.
On the other hand, Louisville's murder rate has spiked (as have other big cities') and he has no big, signature policy successes to boast of. Fischer has been an improvement on his predecessor, Abramson, but would still probably play better in Manhattan than along the Mountain Parkway.
Some political novices merit mention. Kentucky Sports Radio's Matt Jones, who was already considering a Sixth District House bid against incumbent Republican Andy Barr, could set his sights higher.
One has to wonder how Jones would play with Democratic fans of University of Louisville sports teams. He delights in skewering Cardinal fans and could lose some of his appeal among the more rabid parts of Big Blue Nation if he let up for political reasons.
Former Miss America and veterans advocate Heather French Henry could be a contender. Another beauty, actress Ashley Judd, is popular, but liberal, and her Hollywood success might be more of a liability than an asset in Kentucky politics.
Regardless of the messenger, Democratic positions on many national issues simply cannot prevail in Kentucky anymore. Indeed they haven't in a Senate election since 1992, and since then the state has moved well rightward.
Do what they will, Democrats appear destined for extended exile into Kentucky's political wilderness. To draw a Biblical analogy that Stumbo overlooked in his Election Night diatribe, Democrats may wander the political desert for 40 years before glimpsing the Promised Land again.
But in politics, fortunes can change fast and nothing lasts forever. And, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is fond of saying, you meet the same people on the way down that you did on the way up.
McConnell makes a lot more sense than Stumbo did. Such is the difference between victors and vanquished.
(John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney and a political commentator for WDRB.com. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jddyche.)
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