Kentucky 1st District
The point where the Ohio River flows into the Mississippi—the intersection Huckleberry Finn and Jim missed in the fog—must have struck early settlers as a site for a great city. But no Pittsburgh or St. Louis grew up on this fertile black soil. Instead, the Kentucky land west of the dammed-up Tennessee and Cumberland rivers, bought from the Chickasaw Indians by Gen. Andrew Jackson and Gov. Isaac Shelby in 1818—the Jackson Purchase, it is still called—was settled by farmers. Most people here today are the descendants of these farmers, with memories of earlier generations living in family lore. Just to the east of the Tennessee and the Cumberland rivers is the Pennyrile (after pennyroyal, a common variety of local wild mint), a land of low hills and small farms, where you find the west Kentucky coalfields. There is Lyon County, founded by Matthew “Spitting” Lyon, who earned his epithet as a congressman from Vermont for spitting on a fellow member of Congress; he later represented western Kentucky from 1803 to 1811. The Land Between the Lakes, the boating and recreational haven created by the damming of the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers just before the debouch into the Ohio, is the fastest-growing area in these parts, as the Jackson Purchase and the Pennyrile struggle economically. A uranium enrichment plant operated by the company USEC in Paducah has been under federal cleanup since 1988 and slated to be closed; in the meantime, the government has been slow to compensate workers stricken with radiation-related sickness.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 1st Congressional District of Kentucky is made up of the Jackson Purchase and much of the Pennyrile, plus a line of counties stretching some 200 miles east of the Mississippi in the mountains along the Tennessee border and then north toward the center of the state. There is a distinctive Southern atmosphere here—in the crops that are grown, in the historically low wages, and in the fact that the big city with the most influence locally is Nashville, not Louisville. Paducah has made some strides to reinvent itself with an artist-relocation program that has boosted development and made the small Ohio River town a U.S art destination. Turkey hunting also has become a big business here. The Army base at Fort Campbell, which is home to the 101st Airborne Division, has expanded with the activation of a Special Forces battalion.
The Jackson Purchase and the Pennyrile are ancestrally Democratic; Paducah produced one of the most enduring Democratic politicians of this century: Alben Barkley, whose career from 1912 to 1956 included 14 years in the House, 24 in the Senate and four as vice president. But the hills far from the Mississippi are Republican country, and this, combined with the Republican trend that reached north from Dixie to Paducah, has made the 1st District seriously contested territory in state elections—and one of the longtime Democratic rural areas that went solidly for George W. Bush in 2000 (58%) and 2004 (63%). In the close Senate election of 2004, Republican Jim Bunning won 48% in the Jackson Purchase. In 2008, John McCain won the district with 62% of the vote.