CAMPBELLSVILLE, Ky. (AP) — When Mitch McConnell knocked off an incumbent Democrat in a close race in 1984 to win his Senate seat, he did so because of voters in the cities of Louisville and Lexington.
If he is re-elected for a sixth term Tuesday, it will be rural voters like Jason Cox, a beef cattle farmer in Campbellsville, that send him back to Washington. That's in part because rural areas in Kentucky have shifted to supporting Republicans as the GOP has tied state Democrats to the national party and president, who is deeply unpopular here.
Cox was a tobacco farmer who benefited from a multibillion-dollar tobacco buyout, which compensated tobacco growers and others for losing production quotas when the government's price-support program ended a decade ago. The buyout was paid by an assessment on tobacco companies, and McConnell has ensured Kentucky farmers received their full payments each year.
"I don't feel like we would have got one had it not been for Mitch McConnell," Cox said. "I've got a wife and five children. It takes a lot to live."
Over the years, McConnell's dominance in rural Kentucky has kept him in office, something he jokes about by saying: the smaller the town, the better I do. This year, though, he is locked in the tightest race he has been in since 1984, and control of the Senate is at stake.
"Louisville and Lexington during the course of my career have become much more Democratic," McConnell said. "The good news is most of the rest of Kentucky has become much more Republican."