LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Voters in Kentucky have broken a 44-year streak of picking overall winners in presidential races by backing the unsuccessful campaign of Republican John McCain.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Barack Obama was elected the nation’s first black president Tuesday night in a historic triumph.
McCain won Kentucky and collected eight electoral votes in the state that had picked the overall winner in presidential races dating back to 1964.
With 98 percent of Kentucky precincts reporting, McCain had 1,008,429 votes or 57 percent, compared with 727,289 votes or 41 percent for Obama.
Although registered Democrats outnumber Republicans, the state has trended Republican in recent years, supporting President Bush in the past two elections.
Neither McCain nor Obama had campaigned in Kentucky recently. They instead spent their time in battleground states that had more electoral votes at stake and where the race was closer.
Voters in Kentucky turned out at the polls at what was a near-record pace to make their selections between McCain and Obama.
They also re-elected Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell over Democratic challenger Bruce Lunsford in a race that turned into the most expensive ever in Kentucky at $25 million and counting.
With 98 percent of precincts reporting, McConnell had 912,307 votes or 52 percent, compared with 819,116 votes, or 47 percent for Lunsford.
McConnell, the Senate minority leader, had raised $17.9 million for his re-election campaign by the end of September. Lunsford, a Louisville millionaire, personally put up $5.5 million of the $7.1 million in contributions he listed on campaign finance reports submitted to the Federal Election Commission.
McConnell reminded voters in stump speeches and political ads of his rank as the Senate’s top Republican, telling voters that translates into clout for Kentucky in Washington. He said it would be unwise to trade him in for a rookie Democrat.
Lunsford’s political strategy has been to link McConnell to President Bush, and to lay blame for the nation’s economic woes at his feet.
Five incumbent U.S. representatives were re-elected in Kentucky. That includes Democrats John Yarmuth of Louisville and Ben Chandler of Lexington and Republicans Hal Rogers of Somerset, Ed Whitfield of Hopkinsville and Geoff Davis of Hebron. Republican Brett Guthrie defeated Democrat David Boswell in western Kentucky’s 2nd congressional district. He fills a seat left open by Ron Lewis, who is retiring.
Voters also promoted state Rep. Kathy Stein, a Lexington Democrat, to the Kentucky Senate in one of 40 contested state legislative races.
In the presidential race, McCain drew support from a broad range of Kentuckians, tapping some who considered themselves liberals and about half of Democrats who preferred Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton as the nominee, according to an Associated Press exit poll.
The exit poll showed Obama had the support of Kentuckians who considered it most important to have a president who could bring change. Obama also fared well in Louisville, the state’s largest city.
“I’m afraid that there are so many things that Obama stands for that I’m just afraid it is going to hurt our country,” said 58-year-old Dorothy Van Epps, a Republican and Lexington small business owner who voted for McCain. “Not that I am pleased necessarily with the Republican Party, but I feel that we’ve got a better chance.”
A record nearly 3 million Kentuckians registered to vote in Tuesday’s election, including about 1.7 million Democrats and just more than 1 million Republicans. McCain had strong support among Kentucky Democrats. Nearly three out of 10 Democrats crossed over to vote for McCain.
Rocky Rutherford, a 51-year-old Democrat voting in Lexington, said he voted for a Republican for the first time in his life.
“Obama, what has he ever run? I have voted Democrat my entire life before today,” Rutherford said. “I just don’t think anybody is going to work with him.”
Obama did best with young Kentuckians, voters who considered themselves liberals and people who wanted a president to be an agent of change. Obama also picked up support from a quarter of the people who described themselves as white evangelicals.
Secretary of State Trey Grayson had said he expected 65 to 70 percent of Kentucky’s 2.9 million registered voters to cast ballots, a number that would have shattered the record set in 2004.
But Les Fugate, spokesman for Grayson’s office, said late Tuesday night that unofficial vote totals showed voter turnout would mostly likely end up between 60 and 65 percent of registered voters.
Despite not breaking the voter turnout record, lines were long for some voters.
When Kathleen Blanton arrived at her polling station in a Louisville surburb at 6:30 a.m. EST, the line was so long that she gave up and went home to wait for the morning rush to pass. Blanton, a Democrat from Crestwood, found a much shorter line when she returned to Centerfield Baptist Church at 10:30 a.m. EST to cast her vote for Obama.
“I feel like it’s time for a change,” Blanton said. “I think he’s highly intelligent and I think it’s about time we have a highly intelligent president.”
Associated Press writers Joe Biesk in Frankfort and Janet Blake and Will Graves in Louisville contributed to this report.