KY's polls close at 6 PM for the precincts within EST. To that end, as KY hosts a competitive Senate race, we will see how well Democrats are doing by watching early returns between Mitch McConnell (R) and Bruce Lunsford (D). While McConnell is the favorite, as final polling data shows him narrowly ahead, here are the key counties in the state to watch.
More beneath the fold.
Eastern KY divides itself basically in two areas: the mining counties and the rural mountain counties. The counties that are in the former category vote more like WV and are heavily Democratic and the latter are heavily Republican and vote like Eastern TN. Many of the rural mountain counties that didn't have mining have been Republican since the Civil War (counties like Leslie, Pulaski, and Rockcastle).
One county in that region, Bell, normally goes with the winner. Although Mongiardo carried it in his loss to Bunning, it otherwise has supported all recent KY statewide winners. Watch the numbers in Bell County. If Lunsford is running ahead of Mongiardo's 56% and closer to Beshear's 60%, then he is on track to do well.
But here are the key mining counties that are important:
Mongiardo got 81% in Knott, which was better than Beshear. But Beshear ran 5-10% ahead of Mongiardo in the rest of the counties. For Lunsford to win he probably needs to get in the mid to high 60s. Lunsford has to totally devastate McConnell in this region. If Lunsford has a 3-1 or 4-1 edge there he is en route to winning.
The next key area to discuss are the Cincinatti Suburbs. Three counties matter here and Lunsford is playing defense:
These three counties are dark red. Bunning prevailed in each of them by margins of 71%, 63%, 65%. In his loss to Beshear, Ernie Fletcher received only 50%, 45%, and 44%. As Flecther was a very tainted incumbent I don't expect Lunsford to do that well. However, if he can keep McConnell's edge to 60% or even in the mid 50% range, then Lunsford will be doing well. He has to run significantly ahead of Mongiardo there, though. If McConnell gets 70% margins in Boone County this race is probably over.
The next major reason are the two urban areas in KY. There are two key counties that include Lexington and Louisville. They are:
In 2004 Mongiardio received 59% in Jefferson County and 58% in Fayette. Beshear carried them both with margins of 65% and 58%. To that end, if he is to win, Lunsford needs AT LEAST 60% in one of the two, if not both. If he can get 65^% in both Fayette and Jefferson counties then he will be doing well.
Western KY: These are the precincts that are predominantly in CST. They close at 7 PM EST. Western KY is ancestrally the most Democratic part of the state. I will consider one key county: Hopkins. In 2004 Bunning won there with 56% of the vote. In 2007 Beshear won there with 74% of the vote. If Lunsford prevails there he will be doing well.
But another key county to look at is Henderson. Both Mongiardo and Beshear won there. Mongiardo received only 53% of the vote there, while Beshear won with almost 67% of the vote. If Lunsford is over 60% and close to Beshear's total he will be doing well.
UPDATE: Mark27 has mentioned two other counties to watch in Western KY. They are McCracken, where Paducah is, and Daviess. In 2004 McCrakken supported Bunning with 51%. In 2004 Daveiss narrowly supported Bunning with 50% over Mongiardo. In 2007 Beshear carried them, receiving 56% in McCracken and 64% in Daviess. Lunsford probably needs to win them both.
Overall, though, while a Lunsford win seems unlikely, here are some of the key counties to watch. In the 6 PM hour watch the mining precincts in Eastern KY. After 7 PM, as the focus shifts to the urban areas, watch how Lexington and Louisville report. Finally, in whatever happens later, watch how Western KY comes in.
The Democratic base is basically the mining counties, the cities, and the western counties. The Republican base is the center of the state, Cincinatti's suburbs, and the mountain counties where there is little or no mining.