KIMPER, Ky. — The presidential campaigns did not come to Kentucky much for its first Republican caucus since 1984. But the voters did.
While many Republican officials feared a low turnout for the state’s first presidential caucus since 1984, more than 229,000 Kentuckians turned out to vote on a chilly, rainy Saturday. That was more than voted in the 2012 Republican presidential primary, a race that Mitt Romney had largely already won.
In Pike County, the number of voters increased by nearly 40 percent compared to the 2012 general election. As for results, Donald Trump was the clear winner in Pike County, garnering almost 50 percent of the votes. Although he also won the majority statewide, the margin was a much slimmer 36 percent.
“We were predicting a lot less than what showed up,” Roger Ford, Pike County GOP Caucus Chair said. “We were estimating maybe 400 all day, and we’re already passed that number with the polls only open for 55 minutes.”
It’s about a 30-45 minute drive from wherever you’re at. Whether you’re at Dorton or Elkhorn City or Majestic or South Williamson, you are about 40 minutes from Kimper. Monetarily we couldn’t afford to have more than one voting location.
Over 1,500 voters turned out to Kimper Elementary School, the most central point in the county, to cast their votes.
The excitement was clear at the caucus location: not only were hundreds of people lined up around the elementary school, at times there were vehicles lined up on the road waiting to enter the parking lot.
“We had people lined up starting about 8:30 a.m.,” Ford said. “This just shows the sentiment that a lot of people are angry. I think a lot of people are frustrated with the government and what has gone on for the past 8 years with Obama and the war on coal. I think this is a reflection of that frustration.”
Nancy Elswick said voicing her opinion in this race was not an opportunity she was willing to pass up, even if she had to further than usual to do so.
“I think it’s a very good opportunity to voice our opinions, no matter what they may be,” Elswick said. “We wanted to make sure that as republicans we were still able to voice our opinions for our candidate. I think the party thought maybe the caucus would deter some of our votes because it was so far out of the normal line of traffic, but we’re showing Kentucky and the United States that we will vote no matter how inconvenient it may be.”
One common thread among voters, even many of those who had previously opposed the caucus, was how much they enjoyed the atmosphere of the caucus compared to a regular polling place.
According to Caucus Chair Ford, participants are allowed to do other things than just come in and vote like they do at a polling place. During Saturday’s caucus, the GOP saw representatives from a couple of the presidential campaigns, the women’s club, a few issues groups, and several local officials’ offices.
“It has really encouraged a lot of people by seeing the crowd that’s turned out,” Elswick said. “You see more people out, and even though some people may not want to stand in the lines, it has been enjoyable. If my husband wasn’t with me, I would stay all day.”
Another voter who echoed this sentiment was Crystal Friend, who said the unity of the local GOP pleasantly surprised her.
“The turnout has been unbelievable,” Friend said. “Usually with out primaries there are so many different locations, so you really don’t have a gauge for how many people are like-minded… Everyone here is behaving very polite and kind. They all seem to be on the same page, which makes me feel confident that whichever nominee is going to be voted in is going to be supported. This is really just civics at its best.”
Friend also said that she is excited to participate in this election with a possible brokered convention on the line.
A brokered convention is a convention in which the delegate votes of each of the states and territories do not add up to more than 50 percent for any one candidate. So after all of the voting and caucuses and conventions, there is no clear winner of the nomination. If after all of the voting no one wins, the delegates will keep voting until there’s a majority. And that’s where the deliberations come in (hence, “brokered” convention).
But not everyone is as excited about that possibility.
A voter who wished to stay anonymous said that the turnout was encouraging, but that the Republican Party is facing a defining moment with the way it handles this election.
“If the GOP pulls the rug out from Trump, I’m going to re-register as an independent,” the voter said. “I have been registered Republican for almost 50 years, but this isn’t the party I know. They’re not listening to the people. Even if it was a different candidate… If they’re going to try to tell us who the candidate is going to be, I don’t think I want to be affiliated with that party anymore.”
Despite some complaints, the overall atmosphere during the Kentucky Caucus was high energy and patriotism. Some officials are even predicting a new tradition in the Bluegrass State.
“It’s a historic event for the state,” Caucus Chair Ford said. “There has been a lot of criticism and a lot of questions, but hopefully this may be a fixture from now on.”
Donald Trump has won the Republican presidential caucuses in Kentucky, adding to his victory earlier Saturday in Louisiana.
Donald Trump: 82,493; 36 percent
Ted Cruz: 72,503; 32 percent
Marco Rubio: 37,579; 16 percent
John Kasich: 33,134; 14 percent
Ben Carson: 1,951; 1 percent
Rand Paul: 872; 0 percent
Uncommitted: 496; 0 percent
That’s the 12th state win for the billionaire businessman, who aimed to extend his delegate lead over Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in Saturday’s nominating contests.
The Associated Press called the race around 10:45 p.m. Saturday. Trump finished with nearly 36 percent of the vote.
Ted Cruz was second wit 31.57 percent, with Marco Rubio and John Kasich a distant third and fourth.
The caucus was originally intended to allow Senator Rand Paul to run for both The White House and the Senate. Paul dropped out, but others have traveled to Kentucky, to campaign, including Donald Trump and former candidate Ben Carson.
Karissa Blackburn is a news reporter for the Pike County Post. She can be contacted at [email protected] or at 304-784-7329.