The past several months, national news has largely focused on the Republican primary cycle and the continuing drama that it inspires. Between Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and more, public favor has ebbed and flowed its way along, having a difficult time finding consensus in individual primaries or caucuses. Super Tuesday passed, and while many thought it would spell an end to the search for the next Republican presidential nominee, it failed to definitively end the contest. As Kentucky's primary draws closer, the question begins to loom whether it could play a role in this larger national debate.
The tentative date for the Kentucky primary this year lands on May 22nd. While that seems far away, a good number of states hold theirs even later into the summer months. Kentucky's primary hasn't always held much weight in the decision of presidential nominations, largely because the race doesn't last long enough to need the opinion of a late held primary. This year, however small the chances, the current field for Republican presidential nominee does not seem to lessen as the months pass and Kentucky's role within the greater nomination process appears to prove more important as time goes by.
Mitt Romney has traveled a rocky road along what many saw as a smooth pass to the presidential nomination. Though he has consistently had more money and a more organized campaign than his rivals, firm Republican base support has been elusive. Many of the more conservative factions of the Republican Party remain skeptical of his moderate record and his governing of a long-time blue state. These factions remain open to an alternative candidate who represents their values to a greater degree. This has caused the seesaw of support between Romney and his main opposition: Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul. As the primary season moves into more Southern states, generally thought more conservative, analysts have wondered whether roadblocks will continue to rise in Romney's way. It remains to be seen if Romney's presidential bid truly could run off the rails, regardless, the fact the suspicion exists adds greater attention and importance on upcoming primaries.
So where does Kentucky currently stand with regards to the primary? With four Republican Representatives in the House and both of its Senators allying with the GOP, Kentucky clearly remains a red state. Along with this clear distinction, one of its Senators is the son of nominee Ron Paul who has kept a consistent, yet vocal fourth place. As of yet, polling centers have not yet gathered a great deal of data. Senator Rand Paul has swayed some prospective votes by endorsing his father, Public Policy Polling has found Gingrich to hold a tentative lead over Romney, and Magellan Strategies has Romney barely leading the pack of possible voting options (in their poll they asked about other candidates and found Sarah Palin to actually have the lead). Last fall, Kentucky polled enormously for Rick Perry on the eve of actual voting. Along with the national GOP sentiment, Kentucky seems yet to firmly decide which candidate to support.
Rand Paul's endorsement of his father is only one of a few official political endorsements said to guide the Kentucky electorate. The State's Republican party has yet to put their support behind a specific candidate along with most local politicians. The divide between moderate Republicans supporting Romney and more conservative voters wanting an alternative seems to exist in Kentucky as much as anywhere else. Two months ago, a group of top influential evangelical leaders met and decided to back Rick Santorum, hoping to give clear direction for the Romney alternate. And while it has helped the candidate keep his campaign alive and Romney on his toes, his support in Kentucky has yet to make itself roundly known.
So, with all of this indecision and speculation, could Kentucky actually make a difference with its primary result? As with most political questions: it all depends. As of this writing and according to the New York Times, Romney holds 421 delegates of the 1,144 that he will need to cinch the nomination from the Republican National Convention. Of the 1,530 left to win, he must win 723 of these, which comes to almost 47%. While it seems altogether probable for Romney to struggle on and win 47% of the delegates left to dedicate, particularly if the vote continues to split around Santorum and Gingrich, it is no certainty.
Santorum, holding the steady second place, requires 963 of the remaining primary delegates to win the nomination. If Gingrich were to step aside and promote him as the Romney alternative, Santorum would need to win 63% of those left. While a slight stretch to think that Gingrich will give in anytime soon, it is a definite possibility. Kentucky has 45 delegates up for grabs, 3% of those left. Should the field lessen and Santorum gain more momentum, that small percentage could mean a great deal. That said, Kentucky is not a winner-take-all state. Any split in the state's primary voting, which surely will happen, will also split the delegates proportionally. So, even if one candidate wins the majority of Kentucky's vote, other candidates could receive delegates.
Even if Santorum or Gingrich, if he receives a very unexpected boost, cannot win the requisite 1,144 delegates. If they gather enough influence along the campaign trail, they may be able to take the national discussion and make a case for themselves at the Republican National Convention at the end of August. There, asking the unbound delegates to stand for them.
Kentucky's primary will probably not turn the race on its head. However, with such an uncertain future concerning the next Republican presidential nominee, every vote counts. In the end, Kentucky's delegates could very well shape the end result of the long national search for the Republican nominee. As the old political saying goes: “It ain’t over till it’s over, and even then, it ain’t over.”
Louisville.com 's The Arena section features opinions from active participants in the city's politics. Their viewpoints are not those of Louisville.com  (a website is an inanimate object and, as such, has no opinions).
Image: Courtesy of Peter Allen Clark