The following analysis of West Virginia politics has a lot of applicability to understanding how things work in Kentucky, I think:
West Virginia has gone from solid blue to solid red on presidential electoral maps. But unlike Georgia, West Virginia still elects Democrats in statewide races. Both of West Virginia’s senators are Democrats, as is the state’s governor. Democrats claims large majorities in the State Senate and the West Virginia House of Delegates. And Democrats still maintain almost a 2-1 registration edge over Republicans in the state.
How have Democrats maintained support in such a conservative state? And does the party’s remaining strength signal that West Virginia might once again become competitive in presidential campaigns?
Part of the answer to the first question is lingering loyalty. “You can always find someone at a rally who will say, ‘I would vote Republican, but my dad would kill me,’” Mr. Rupp said. The more fundamental answer, however, is that Democratic candidates in West Virginia often bear little resemblance to national Democrats. State Democrats tend to be more conservative on a range of issues. Moreover, they emphasize their independence from the national party. Just recently, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, Sen. Joe Manchin and Rep. Nick Rahall, all announced that they would not attend the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte.
The greatest sources of conflict between national and West Virginia Democrats are energy and environmental policies. Coal was the lifeblood of the state’s economy for decades, and — despite receding as an employer in the state — is still an integral part of the West Virginia psyche (the state’s flag features a farmer and coal miner). A pro-coal stance in West Virginia is as vital a component in electability as being from West Virginia.
Full analysis available here: http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/07/03/in-west-virginia-coal-means-more-party-less/