Kentucky Midterm House Race: Wolfe County Voters
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
We are in a hard-fought congressional district, one of those that may decide control of the House of Representatives. A live audience is with us here at Broomwagon Bikes and Coffee. Folks, would you just let the country know that you're here?
INSKEEP: Welcome, and good morning. These are voters in Kentucky's 6th Congressional District. Is everybody voting, by the way? Are you going to vote? Yeah.
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Yeah.
INSKEEP: Yeah, OK. All right. Republican incumbent Andy Barr faces Democrat Amy McGrath. And here's how you know this is a vital race. Former Vice President Biden campaigns for the Democrat in this district today. President Trump campaigns for the Republican here tomorrow. And as politicians have their say, we are listening to voters. We're going to three corners of this district, three different places to learn how voters' views relate to their lives. One corner is in the Appalachian Mountains. I stood the other day on a high rock formation, natural bridge looking out over a valley of the Daniel Boone National Forest with our producer Amara Omeokwe.
AMARA OMEOKWE, BYLINE: If you're religious, this is the kind of thing that makes you say, like, oh, God is real. It's just so beautiful. It can't be manmade. You know what I mean?
INSKEEP: These mountains mean people are isolated. East of us was Wolfe County, one of the poorest in the United States. In that county, we walked up a hillside covered with trailers and met Haley Baisden (ph), who's 23 with four kids and who would like to find work.
HALEY BAISDEN: I can't get a vehicle because I have no job. And I can't get a job because I have no vehicle (laughter).
INSKEEP: There just aren't many jobs within a...
INSKEEP: ...Mile or two.
BAISDEN: I could walk. If there was any jobs here, I'd get up and skip to work every morning. But there's nothing here.
INSKEEP: Did you go to school here in Wolfe County?
BAISDEN: I went until my sophomore year, and I got my GED.
INSKEEP: You drop out because you were becoming a mom?
BAISDEN: Yeah. Well, I had already become a mom. And I was working at Dairy Queen. And I was, like, taking care of my baby and working and trying to go to school. And I picked the two important - I thought at the time. I should've never quit there because I didn't know that there was nothing here.
INSKEEP: Meaning you wish you still had the Dairy Queen...
BAISDEN: Yeah. Yeah. If I knew what I know now, I would have never quit.
INSKEEP: Median household income here is $22,000, far less than half the national average. And this is where we found the first of our three corners - the corner of KY-15 and Elkins Road. There's a little, brick strip mall there. It holds Southern Roots, a hair salon run by 21-year-old Savanna Halsey (ph), who told her story while coloring a customer's hair. She says she drove far out of town to beauty school for 1,800 hours of training.
Do the students do each other's hair?
SAVANNA HALSEY: Yes, all the time. I actually had a student turn my hair green when I was in school. It was quite terrible.
HALSEY: It was quite terrible. But I got through it, so...
INSKEEP: So you sacrificed to get...
HALSEY: I did.
INSKEEP: ...To this point in your life.
HALSEY: I did.
INSKEEP: That's great.
Halsey lives near her parents and goes home to watch the news with her dad. They talk politics, though that is harder with other young people, like one she met the other day.
HALSEY: She just assumed because I was under a certain age that I wasn't going to be for Trump. But I do think, in a business and economical way, I think that he has the right idea for America.
INSKEEP: Why do you think your friend assumed that someone your age would be against Trump?
HALSEY: Because most people my age are. I usually don't have political conversations with people my age just because they're so ready to pounce on anybody that doesn't think the same way as them. I think that a lot of people my age - they just see black and white. They don't see gray.
INSKEEP: OK. Why would Halsey favor Trump? Not because she's poor. Many poor people we interviewed don't vote. That 23-year-old unemployed mom we met - she's never voted. Halsey favors Trump's attitudes because she is doing well. But many friends from high school are not.
HALSEY: There are some people that are just so lazy. It just kills me just because I do work for everything I have. I pay all my bills. My parents don't help me. But like I said, some people aren't that lucky to - oh, I don't want to call it luck 'cause I did work for everything that I did for - like, I went to school. I did the whole being a broke college kid kind of situation, drove 45 minutes.
INSKEEP: Yeah. I guess it's a little good fortune. You came from a good family and...
HALSEY: Yeah. I can't complain. But I think that some people - they use a bunch of things for excuses.
INSKEEP: Halsey likes her Republican Congressman Andy Barr. She met him in Wolfe County. He was shaking hands at the homecoming game. He's all but sure to carry that conservative county. But the question is, by how much? Because on this same corner, we walked into a medical clinic and met Sheri Haas (ph), a psychologist whose own life experience leads her to different politics.
How divided does the country feel to you?
SHERI HAAS: Horribly divided, scary. You know, what could be the end result of all of this?
INSKEEP: Sheri Haas' clinic treats many drug addicts. Their cars fill the parking lot. Opioid and meth addiction are huge problems. Congress just approved bipartisan support for treatment, but many of Haas' patients use Medicaid, which Kentucky's Republican governor wants to restrict. She says President Trump's election made her feel like a stranger in her own country. The Senate confirmation of a Supreme Court nominee made her feel even more so. And her personal experience shaped her views of sexual assault allegations against Brett Kavanaugh.
HAAS: I would have thought that by the time I had gone through all this with my girls - that we would come to a point in time where this wouldn't be an issue anymore, like, in my lifetime.
INSKEEP: Where sexual assault wouldn't be in...
HAAS: Yes. I worked in the prison system. You know, I suffered sexual assault. My mother did. And it was unsubstantiated, even though I had eyewitnesses.
INSKEEP: Wait. You were assaulted in the prison.
HAAS: Yes, by the deputy warden. That's what I'm saying, you know? And I - you suffer through it. And you think, yeah. But I'm going to make a way for my daughters. It's going to be better. And guess what? We're going backwards.
INSKEEP: In this red-leaning county, Sheri Haas reports her friends lash out if she says what she thinks.
HAAS: Part of me thinks, OK, I need to step back. And I always want to be able to see someone else's perspective. It's essential. But part of me also feels like if we just step back enough, that something evil and horrid will take over. I feel like I have to fight a fight now.
INSKEEP: And there is a fight. In the same strip mall as the conservative beauty shop owner and the liberal psychologist, there's a campaign office for the Democratic candidate for Congress, Amy McGrath, who is competing for rural votes in a way that Democrats sometimes do not. Elsewhere in today's program, we're a Kentucky horse track and also a historically black neighborhood of Lexington, Ky. Right now we're at Broomwagon Bikes and Coffee and brought along a musician, guitarist Bruce Lewis. Will you take us out, sir?
BRUCE LEWIS: (Playing guitar). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.