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Obama vote lags among Democrats in Arkansas, Kentucky primaries

May 23, 2012|By Michael A. Memoli
  • President Obama greets a crowd upon arriving at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colo.
President Obama greets a crowd upon arriving at Peterson Air Force Base… (Jewel Samad / AFP/Getty…)

Have you heard of John Wolfe? Chances are, voters in Arkansas haven't heard of him either. And yet, tens of thousands of Democrats cast a vote for him Tuesday's presidential primary in the state instead of the incumbent, President Obama.

Wolfe, a Tennessee lawyer, won 42% of the vote statewide, and a majority of the vote in 36 of the 73 counties that had reported totals as of early Wednesday.

Meanwhile, in Kentucky, just as big a percentage of Democrats voted for "Uncommitted" rather than Obama. Mitt Romney, who still faced more familiar names on the Republican ballot, won with bigger shares of the vote in both states.

Both results come weeks after a candidate running from a Texas prison scored 41% of the vote against Obama in the West Virginia primary.

So what's going on?

Republicans are saying it's a sign of dampened enthusiasm in the Democratic ranks with a president who has fallen short of expectations. That's a key part of Wolfe's platform.

"President Obama may have the Democratic nomination under wraps, but he cannot ignore the undercurrent of discontent in his own party," he writes on his website. "Under Obama’s leadership, the Democratic Party has proposed a misguided healthcare reform, continues to reward corporate thugs in the economic bailout, and falls short on foreign policy."

That may be part of it, but there are other factors at play.

In some quarters, Democratic strategists see it as simple racism. But on a more widespread basis, it's a clear demonstration of the fact that conservative Southern voters who long identified as Democrats remain registered as such, even though they've voted Republican in federal elections for years.

Odds are the Democrats who backed Wolfe, "Uncommitted" or the jailbird have never voted for Obama -- not in the 2008 Democratic primary, and not in the general election. Four years ago, even as Obama had the nomination all but secured, Hillary Rodham Clinton was winning primaries in some of these same states -- West Virginia by more than 40 percentage points, Kentucky by about 35.

None of these states are November battlegrounds, having gone for the Republican nominee in every election since 1996, when Bill Clinton led the ticket. There is more concern about North Carolina, though, where about one in five Democrats voted against the president.

Whatever the reasons, Republicans are eager to highlight the embarrassing results. On the RNC Facebook page, the committee advertised "Fired Up! Ready To Go!" buttons in the familiar Obama campaign blue, but with "Uncommitted!" rather than the president's name.

"These new campaign buttons proudly state your reluctance as a Democrat to vote for Obama after he didn't keep his campaign promises the first time around," the page reads.

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