The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Meet Jenean Hampton, the first black statewide officeholder in Kentucky. And, she’s a Republican.

The Republican candidate for Kentucky lieutenant governor, Jenean Hampton, campaigns on the day before the election in Bowling Green, Ky. (Bac Totrong/Daily News via AP)

Kentucky's newest lieutenant governor-elect is unique in many ways. She and her running mate, Gov.-elect Matt Bevin, are some of this election cycle's first victorious political outsiders. (Bevin had been likened to Donald Trump).

Jenean Hampton is also the first African American to be elected to statewide office in Kentucky. And she's just one of a handful of black women on the national level to identify with the tea party movement.

Here's what you need to know about her and her election:

Name: Jenean Hampton

Age: 58

Key childhood moment: Hampton was born in inner-city Detroit. Her father worked on the manufacturing line for Chrysler, while her mother took care of her and her three sisters. When she was 7, her parents divorced, and her mother, who lacked a high school diploma, struggled to provide for the family.

Nonpolitical résumé: Hampton told the Courier-Journal's Phillip M. Bailey those early years made her vow she'd never live a life in poverty. She resisted the pull of Detroit's car industry and joined the U.S. Air Force, where she spent seven years writing code and managing software like the radar used to find enemy planes in Operation Desert Storm, where she was deployed. She then spent 19 years in the corrugated packing industry.

Political résumé: Not much. In 2014, Hampton ran for her first political office when she challenged the longest-continually serving state representative in Kentucky history, a Democrat. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) endorsed her in that race, but she lost. She told WKU Radio at the time that she was just an average person who decided she needed to get into politics to fix what upset her. "Sometimes you’re screaming at the TV, you see things that need to be improved, and you’re screaming that someone needs do something, well sometimes that someone is you."

That was her message on the campaign trail this year, too.

When Bevin picked her as his running mate this year for his longshot election, they were the fourth set of candidates to enter a crowded and soap opera-like primary. "Very historic moment for Kentucky," Bevin said, with Hampton by her side, as he filed his candidacy.

How her campaign went: Neither Hampton nor Bevin have ever held elected office (though Bevin, too, had run and lost elections). It was both one of their strengths and weaknesses.

Hampton campaigned around the state as "I'm just Jenean," emphasizing her Baptist roots.

But Hampton sometimes stumbled on her inexperience, like in a September debate when she questioned whether the U.S. Supreme Court has the final say on the constitutionality of any law. She said she would still be a slave if the U.S. Supreme Court "is the final arbiter of anything."

Preschool funding was also a major campaign issue in the race, and Democrats tried to sink her by releasing a video where she said the federal Head Start program was used to "indoctrinate" children. Hampton never did respond, even in a debate, to what she meant.

It all must have evened out in the end. Steve Voss, a political science professor at the University of Kentucky, told Bailey of the Courier-Journal that in debates, Hampton "came across as awkward, and she frequently consulted her notes. But she also came across as genuine and thoughtful."

How Hampton got so conservative: It's apparently a mystery to her family, too. Hampton said her father, who recently died, "went to his grave mad at me."

"That I'm conservative, Republican, didn't support Obama — he just could not wrap his arms around that," she told Bailey.

Hampton says her guiding light is constitutionally limited government, and she told Bailey that when trying to climb out of inner-city Detroit, she felt government and friends and family around her were rooting for her to fail:

"A huge part of what formed my opinions was the peer pressure that I got to fail," she said. "These were kids who questioned my good grades, questioned the way I spoke, questioned my choice in music and the fact that I was reading all the time. I just remember wondering, 'Well, jeez, when do I get to just be Jenean with my own likes and dislikes?' "

As she got older, she said she despised Nixon's Republican Party but came around to the GOP when Ronald Reagan was president because he reflected her own optimism about the American Dream, according to Bailey.

She went on to say that in recent years she's felt like an outsider in her own party, adding she cheered when House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) resigned. That's what brought her to the tea party movement.

"In some instances the Republican Party as a whole has strayed from its roots, its own platform," she said.

But political analysts in Kentucky would argue she and Bevin are outside the mainstream Republican Party, even in conservative Kentucky. They were not the party's establishment favorite to win the primary.

Hampton on her race: During the campaign, Hampton tried to downplay her background while at the same time emphasizing her individuality as a black tea party woman, Bailey said.

That rubbed with her running mate's campaign pitch. Bevin often played up Hampton's race as a sign of his branch of conservatism's wider appeal.

Black conservatives in the state told Bailey that Hampton "humanizes" a GOP that has seemed distant to African Americans. Rick Howland, a conservative radio show host in Louisville had this to say about her:

"We know Democrats ain't doing nothing for us and we're afraid of Republicans, and all of a sudden here's a woman standing in who isn't afraid of them. Are there racists in the room with her? Sure, but there are racists in the Democrat room, too."