FRANKFORT, Kentucky — As much as they publicly despise him, Kentucky Republicans will likely miss Democratic President Barack Obama when he leaves office in 2017.
Since 2008, when Obama was first elected, Republicans have added 183,635 new voters in Kentucky while Democrats have registered an extra 23,957 during the same time period. The registration boom means Democrats now make up 53 percent of all registered voters, compared to 57 percent just seven years ago.
"I think (Obama) has a great deal to do with it," Republican Party of Kentucky chairman Steve Robertson said. "He's so unpopular and Kentuckians can look at his policies and understand very quickly, 'I disagree with that.' And it gives them a natural place to go, which is the Republican Party."
Democrats were quick to point out that they still outnumber Republicans by more than 448,000 voters - more than enough to win a statewide election, where Democrats have dominated for decades. Democrats hold five of the six statewide elected offices, including governor and attorney general. And Kentucky is the only Southern state where Democrats control the House of Representatives. They kept control last year, despite massive Republican gains across the country that included Sen. Mitch McConnell's 15-point re-election drubbing of Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes.
This year, with an open governor's seat, four Republicans are vying for the nomination in a contentious campaign that has attracted unprecedented levels of outside spending. Democrats, meanwhile, have been biding their time with Attorney General Jack Conway as the party's likely nominee. That's why Kentucky Democratic Party chairman Patrick Hughes says his party has an advantage with voters most likely to participate: independents.
"The Republican's brutal primary slugfest is turning off the independent-minded voters who will ultimately decide this election and is exposing the flaws in each of their potential nominees," he said.
But Republicans say their registration gains make it clear that the tide is quickly turning in Kentucky.
"It's just a function of when, not if this state is entirely red," Robertson said.