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Kentucky Midterm House Race: Voter Issues


I'm Steve Inskeep before a live audience in Lexington, Ky. Tell America good morning, folks.


INSKEEP: We are visiting a hotly contested congressional district. It's a district President Trump campaigns in this weekend while former Vice President Biden campaigns here today. We are meeting people in three corners of this district, three very different places where voters will help decide control of the House this fall. Elsewhere this morning we're on the first corner in desperately poor Wolfe County, Ky.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I can't get a vehicle because I have no job. And I can't get a job because I have no vehicle.

INSKEEP: There just aren't many jobs within a mile or?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: No, no. I could walk. If there was any jobs here, I would get up and skip to work.

INSKEEP: Our second of three corners offers a very different view of the congressional district, the corner of Versailles Road and Old Clubhouse Lane. They say Versailles here, by the way, not Versailles. That is the entrance to Keeneland, the horse racing track in Lexington.


INSKEEP: It is the time of Keeneland's Fall Meet. On a weekday afternoon, people wear suits and dresses and heels. And we stood with Ken (ph) and Resia Ayres (ph). She works for a foundation improving horse health, and he is a horse breeder. One of his mares gave birth to Small Town Hero, the horse that they saw pulling ahead in the day's second race.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Wow, it is wide open in the final furlong. Small Town Hero - $900.

KEN AYRES: Come on baby. Come on baby.

RESIA AYRES: Small town.

K. AYRES: Here he comes.

R. AYRES: Come on Small Town.

K. AYRES: All right. He's going to win it.

R. AYRES: Come on. Come on. Come on. Yahoo (laughter) That's great.

K. AYRES: I didn't have a dime on him.


R. AYRES: And he went off at like 30 to 1.

INSKEEP: Maybe they missed the jackpot on that winning horse, but Ken and Resia Ayres, like many at Keeneland, have done well. Though many Kentuckians are poor, this state is rich - in farmland, in coal, in bourbon, in universities and in horses. The Ayres are pleased with the direction of the country right now.

You voted for President Trump?

K. AYRES: I certainly did.

INSKEEP: Did you also, ma'am?

R. AYRES: Yes, I did.


K. AYRES: He's standing up to all these countries around the world that have taken advantage of our goodwill, if you will.

INSKEEP: The Ayres see a strong economy, and they are voting to keep Republican Congressman Andy Barr.

K. AYRES: Well, I think the country has rectified itself. I think it's brought itself up from the bootstraps and we're going good again. The only thing I'm afraid of is a civil war.

INSKEEP: Whoa. Whoa. Whoa, Civil War? The country's going great except for the fear of a civil war?

R. AYRES: It seems like nobody can have an opinion anymore and disagree agreeably. Everyone is so entrenched in their own viewpoint that they don't - they can't even speak or say what they think because they're afraid somebody else is going to jump on them.

INSKEEP: Remember in 2016, when many Americans thought the country was doing well and could not understand why Trump voters were so angry? In our talks in Kentucky this, week it's often been the Trump supporters baffled by the anger. Seven miles from Keeneland, we found some voters who are unhappy at the third of our three corners. We knocked on a door at the corner of Eastern Avenue and 3rd Street in Lexington.

Hi. How are you, ma'am?

PHYLLIS EVANS: Wonderful, how are you?

INSKEEP: And we talked on the porch of Phyllis Evans (ph). She lives in the East End, which is a district of wood-frame houses. It was a segregated black neighborhood of Lexington. We're near the Lyric Theatre, where Duke Ellington and Ray Charles once played.

EVANS: This really used to be a really nice neighborhood. Like I said, I grew up in this area. And, you know,...

INSKEEP: Fifty years ago, it would be really...

EVANS: Oh, it was beautiful. Yeah. We had our own grocery store. We had our own pharmacy, schools, recreation, everything.

INSKEEP: She bought a house with her husband, worked for the University of Kentucky and raised her kids. She also saw the neighborhood decline when the end of legal segregation let African-Americans leave.

EVANS: You know, to be honest with you, the friends that I used to see and the people that I grew up, they're no longer here. And it's really sad because a lot of people I grew up, you know, like I said, I grew up with, and I don't see them anymore. They're not here.

INSKEEP: Now, a new generation is moving in, many younger and white. A French bakery just opened across the street, brightly lit and smelling of espresso. Phyllis Evans says she has seen her Republican congressmen there, Andy Barr. But a sour look crosses her face when she mentions him because she links him with President Trump.

EVANS: I'm sorry that he's our president. Now, you can say what you want about, you know, some of the other previous presidents but never anything like this. And what really got me was the separation of those children.

INSKEEP: Oh, the migrant children crossing the border from their parents.

EVANS: Absolutely. Absolutely. I think he's racist, I really do.

INSKEEP: Is it important to have a Congress that would provide more of a check to President Trump?

EVANS: Absolutely. He's power drunk. This election, to me, is to vote to put a check on him.

INSKEEP: Phyllis Evans put up a blue yard sign for Democratic congressional candidate Amy McGrath. McGrath can expect many votes near this corner, though maybe not all votes, as we learned from other residents who put up their own sign. Theirs said, remember in November.


INSKEEP: Ondine, how do I spell that?


INSKEEP: O-N-D-I-N-E. What's your last name, Ondine?

QUIN: Quinn.

INSKEEP: OK. And how about you?

DREW BOWLING: Drew, D-R-E-W. Bowling.

INSKEEP: They're social workers, both progressive. Drew attended a town hall meeting for Congressman Barr and challenged his opposition to Obamacare. Yet Drew also attended a meeting to challenge Democrat Amy McGrath, asking if she was progressive enough.

BOWLING: I was at one of her meet-and-greets. There was a room probably about 40, 50 people. They were all white, and so I raised my hand. And I said, I'm just going to acknowledge this. There is a lack of melanin in this room. What are you doing to reach out to communities of color, specifically black communities, to talk to them about the issues that are important to them?

INSKEEP: Amy McGrath is a Marine veteran who flew combat missions in Iraq. That is a big part of the Democrats appeal in this conservative district, yet it is exactly what Drew and Ondine dislike.

BOWLING: Fighter jet's her logo, right?

INSKEEP: Sure, she's a veteran.

BOWLING: On her signs, so she's pretty proud of it. All I can hear is like murderous imperialist when I see that. And I'm just like...

QUIN: So we're pretty bitter and jaded, just to be totally honest.

INSKEEP: Drew and Ondine know the kind of argument made by their neighbor, that Democratic control of the House is needed to put a check on President Trump.

QUIN: It feels ugly and gross over and over again to have to compromise your personal values and ethics to vote for the lesser of two evils. I'm tired of people trying to guilt me into voting for crappy people using that argument. I'm tired of it. And I'm just not going to be bullied into doing that anymore.

INSKEEP: Those are some of the voters we're meeting in three corners of this Kentucky congressional district, one of those that could decide control of the House. And Emily Beaulieu of the University of Kentucky is here with us. What do you hear in those voices, Emily?

EMILY BEAULIEU: Steve, what I hear in these voices are themes that resonate, really, across the country, both in terms of the nature of support for Trump and the ways that Trump is reshaping people's understanding of democratic politics.

INSKEEP: What do you mean?

BEAULIEU: In terms of the nature of support, we see that it's not those who are most economically disadvantaged who favor Trump. In fact, it's folks who are doing comparatively well for whom the narrative that Trump presents resonates with their understanding.

INSKEEP: They feel other people are taking advantage of the system.

BEAULIEU: And so he represents their understanding of where we're at in America. And in terms of the reshaping of politics, you notice from both supporters and opponents alike just a sense of heightened incivility and impending conflict.

INSKEEP: OK. Emily Beaulieu of the University of Kentucky as we continue our coverage here on MORNING EDITION. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.