“Wedge issues” and the 2011 Kentucky election

Former Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson came to visit a group of College Democrats here at Centre College this week. He’s currently running as Governor Beshear’s running mate in the 2011 gubernatorial election. Mayor Abramson was an interesting and energetic speaker, and he focused primarily on what students could do at the local level to help with the governor’s race.

At one point, Abramson referred to recent attempts by Republican David Williams (Kentucky Senate President, currently running against Beshear for governor) to create “wedge issues” in the Kentucky electorate. For example, he criticized Williams for pushing a very conservative immigration bill (SB 6) through the Senate even though it has very little chance of passing the House. According to Abramson, that was a political move designed to use a divisive “hot-button” issue to create divisions and divide Kentucky voters, when he ought to be focused instead on seeking for bipartisan approaches to problems.

Regardless of whether or not you prefer an immigration policy along the lines of SB 6, from a political standpoint “wedge issues” are a strategically smart thing to do. There are more registered Democrats in Kentucky than Republicans, but Kentucky Democrats are some of the most culturally conservative Democrats in the country. Thus, if a Republican candidate can switch the focus of the campaign to cultural issues, it’s possible that those culturally conservative Democrats may choose to vote for a Republican candidate. This happens regularly on the national level, as Republicans almost always win the state-wide vote, whether for U.S. Senate or President, by about a 60%-40% margin.

So while Abramson may have legitimate qualms about “statesman-like” it is to use wedge issues in a campaign, from a strategic perspective it is undoubtedly a smart thing to do.

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