FRANKFORT (AP) — Democrat Jeff Taylor was at home Monday night, getting ready to have one last campaign rally before Tuesday’s special House election in Kentucky, when the phone rang.
It was Barack Obama urging him to vote for Jeff Taylor.
“It was very exhilarating,” Taylor said of the recorded phone call that went to households in the Hopkinsville area. “I mean, I am Jeff Taylor!”
Taylor was one of three Democrats to win special House elections on Tuesday, solidifying power in the last legislative body in the South still controlled by Democrats. The recorded phone call from Obama was surprising — even Taylor did not know about it — given that Kentucky Democrats have famously shunned the country’s first black president because of his dismal approval ratings in the bluegrass state. Alison Lundergan Grimes, the 2014 Democratic Senate nominee, refused to say if she voted for the president and ran TV ads where she looked at the camera and said “I’m not Barack Obama” while holding a shotgun.
But Taylor, who is black, told everyone he voted for Obama twice, and would vote for him a third time if he could. He said that honesty helped to blunt Republican attacks, which he said included an edited image of him wearing a cheerleading uniform telling voters he would be an Obama cheerleader.
“I’m not selling my soul to get Frankfort,” Taylor said. “Me taking ownership of it hurt them.”
But a day after the election, Democrats were still not eager to acknowledge the president. No one was willing to take credit for persuading the president to record the call. Jerry Abramson, the former Louisville mayor and lieutenant governor who now works in the White House, declined to comment. So did Jerry Lundergan, the former state party chairman and close friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo said he did not contact the president, proudly adding: “I’ve never spoken to the president. The last time I was up there I got thrown out of the White House or asked to leave,” referencing a July 2014 meeting with White House aides.
When asked if the state party had asked Obama to make the call, state Democratic Party chairwoman, Sannie Overly, paused 10 seconds before answering.
“I did not reach out and ask him to do that,” she said. “I’m just very thankful that the president was willing to stand up for our candidates who are willing to stand up for his health care policy.”
House Republican Floor Leader Jeff Hoover credited Taylor’s victory to Obama’s phone call, saying it significantly boosted turnout in Hopkinsville, which has one of the largest African-American populations in the state. But he said Obama’s involvement could come back to haunt Democrats as Republicans focus their attention on the fall elections, where all 100 House seats will be up for re-election.
“We are going to point out, and continue to point out, what Barack Obama has done to the people of Kentucky,” Hoover said.
Taylor acknowledged that Obama’s phone call helped his campaign, adding voters were “very excited to hear his voice.” But he said it was not the reason he won.
“It’s insulting to think that African-Americans can be so shallow that one phone call made 24 hours before the election would give me a (1,000) vote difference,” Taylor said.