The elections Tuesday showed again that rural voters are different from urban voters.
But that doesn’t mean they are predictable.
Take rural voters in Kentucky, for example. Rand Paul won the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate as an all out proponent of the Tea Party, the conservative, small government movement. The Tea Party, conventional wisdom says, is strong in largely white, rural areas.
Yet Rand Paul gathered his lowest vote totals in rural Kentucky where the turnout was highest.
Paul, a Bowling Green ophthalmologist and the son of Texas Republican Ron Paul, ran against Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson. As you can see in the chart below, Paul won 63% of the vote in the cities, but only 54% of the vote in rural Kentucky.
Rand Paul got his largest percentages in exurban counties.
Turnout among Kentucky voters was highest in the Republican primary in rural counties.
The Pennsylvania contest to fill the seat in Congress held by Democrat John Murtha was held in the 99th most rural district in the country. It was a traditionally Democratic district, but Republicans thought they could pick it up, largely because 37% of the voters lived in rural areas.
That didn’t happen. Mark Critz — a pro-life, pro-gun, anti-Obama health bill Democrat — beat Tim Burns, who became involved in politics through the Tea Party.
Statewide in Pennsylvania, Rep. Joe Sestak beat incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter. Sestak was seen as the more liberal candidate — Specter had recently defected from the Republican Party. But Sestak earned his highest voting percentages in rural Pennsylvania.
Sestak won 53% of the urban vote, but 59% of the vote in rural Pennsylvania. Specter, although the more conservative candidate, won staunchly Democratic Philadelphia.
Washington Post writer Jennifer Agiesta notes that Specter won where Barack Obama won in the 2008 Democratic primary (Hillary Clinton won the Pennsylvania primary)
Sestak, meanwhile, won the counties where Clinton had done best.
The Democratic senatorial primary in Arkansas was also more of a geographic contest than an ideological one.
Liberal groups and unions were upset with incumbent Sen. Blanche Lincoln and encouraged an insurgent run by Lt. Gov. Bill Halter. The race ended with Lincoln barely edging Halter, but failing to reach 50%. The two will meet in a run-off in June.
Lincoln, cast as the conservative in the race, did best in Arkansas cities, where she won more than 51% of the vote. Halter, supported by the Netroots and labor, scored best in rural Arkansas. The Arkansas press figured out that this race didn’t have much to do with national politics or MoveOn.org, which supported Halter. See a good summary of the local knowledge here.
The biggest difference between rural and urban voters could be found in the Democratic senatorial primary in Kentucky. There the state’s Attorney General, Jack Conway, narrowly defeated Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo.
This was a Kentucky classic, a contest between a rich attorney from Louisville, the state’s largest city, and a doctor from Hazard, a small town in the state’s Appalachian coalfields.
That’s the way Mongiardo ran his campaign, according to Louisville Courier-Journal reporter Joseph Gerth.
“Few issues separated the two candidates,” Gerth wrote. “But Mongiardo, a Hazard physician, succeeded in making the race a rural-vs.-urban, have-vs.-have-not battle against Conway, a millionaire lawyer from Louisville.”
And that’s the way the state voted. Conway won 54% of the vote in the cities, primarily Louisville, Lexington and the Cincinnati suburbs. But he won only 36% of the vote in rural Kentucky, where most of the votes were cast in the primary.
The results in the Kentucky Democratic primary were extraordinarily close. Midday Wednesday, Mongiardo asked for a recanvass of the state’s voting machines.