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Unknowns Beating Obama In Democratic Primaries


On the Democratic side, President Obama has been winning all his primaries, of course. But in some cases, he's had some surprisingly strong competition. In Oklahoma, West Virginia and Arkansas, gadfly candidates, including one federal felon, won a significant number of votes. In North Carolina, 20 percent of Democratic voters chose no preference, and yesterday in Kentucky, 42 percent chose no one over the president, casting ballots for uncommitted.

From member station WFPL in Louisville, Gabe Bullard has more on that most recent contest.

GABE BULLARD, BYLINE: The 87,000 Democrats who essentially chose none of the above when voting yesterday represent a fraction of a fraction. First, they're the fraction of Kentuckians who even came out to vote. Overall turnout was just under 14 percent and many of them aren't really Democratic voters on the national level.

Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans here three to two, but in true Southern style, that margin is shrinking.

SEAN RILEY: If you look at the voter turnout, it was such a small sampling of Kentucky Democrats.

BULLARD: Sean Riley(ph) voted for Mr. Obama yesterday and he hopes to be one of the president's delegates at the convention this summer.

RILEY: You know, when we get to the general election, Obama's not going to win Kentucky, barring some miracle, and so it really wasn't too big of a surprise on that.

BULLARD: Riley says, when you look at a map of the results, the uncommitted number makes even more sense.

RILEY: He won central Kentucky pretty heavily. Obviously, he won Louisville huge. He won the Ashland area, but far eastern Kentucky and far western Kentucky are the two parts of the state that he lost. And when you think about those two parts of the state, those are the heaviest coal counties.

BULLARD: Coal interests are one of the president's top opponents in the state. The eastern and western counties are also rural and white rural Southerners voting against the president isn't a surprise. But there were some surprises in the areas where Mr. Obama won.

TIFF GONZALES: Right now, President Obama does not have my vote in November.

BULLARD: Tiff Gonzales(ph) lives in Louisville. She voted uncommitted. She says the president is too conservative on her number one issue.

GONZALES: While I was a supporter of President Obama - or then candidate Obama - in 2008, I've been really displeased with his stance on immigration policies.

BULLARD: Specifically, Gonzales thinks the administration's immigration policy has led to too many deportations and broken up too many families.

Other uncommitteds, like Mark Brering(ph), had a different goal.

MARK BRERING: I was not happy with my choices for the ballot, plus I find myself a bit of an iconoclast and wanted just to make my point heard.

BULLARD: Brering says no candidate on either side of the ballot really represents all of his views and he wanted to show that, but he'll go back to Mr. Obama in the fall.

BRERING: I'm happy enough. He hasn't done a lot of things I would prefer, but he's certainly better than any other alternative.

BULLARD: Even with uncommitted getting more than 40 percent of the primary vote yesterday, Mr. Obama's percentage of the vote was up from 2008. That's when he lost to Hillary Clinton in a landslide just weeks before securing the nomination. And while the uncommitted numbers may look embarrassing for the president, supporters here are quick to point out that he won 1,700 more votes than Mitt Romney.

For NPR News, I'm Gabe Bullard in Louisville.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Gabe Bullard joined WFPL in 2008 as a reporter on the city politics beat. Since then, he's reported, blogged, hosted and edited during elections, severe weather and the Fairdale Sasquatch scare of 2009. Before coming to Louisville, Gabe lived in St. Louis, which was his home base for years of growing up, studying and interning at various media outlets around the country.

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