Saturday, April 14, 2007

Gubernatorial Debate Analyzed

From NKY Politics:

Watch Monday night's KET debate between GOP gubernatorial candidates Ernie Fletcher, Anne Northup and Billy Harper? Who won? Who looked good, or bad? Who scored points? Before I give my thoughts, I want to address a couple of concerns raised by posters.

I asked about the hiring scandal because it will be an issue in the general election even if Fletcher does not win the nomination. The Dems will use it to show that the GOP should not be returned, so it is not going away. Also, this is a primary, different animal than a general. The base voters want to hear Fletcher's response, those that support him want to hear that it was a "political witch hunt" as he put it. That won't work in a general, at least not as well, but it is red meat for his backers.

I also ask the gambling question because in my mind the state is squandering an opportunity to go after a big pot of money. I hear pols in every election talk grandiose plans but with little ways to pay for their proposals. Gambling is a viable business in other states, KY should consider allowing casinos to operate.

Now, to the debate. Fletcher did a decent job handling the questions about the hiring scandal and had a command of the facts. He, of course, painted a rosy picture, but he looked more at ease than usual. Didn't give a lot of concrete proposals, but this primary is about deflecting criticism about the scandal and showing, in his mind, that he performed well while under criminal indictment and political pressure. A lot of people gave him up for dead a year ago, but he is definitely alive.

Northup did not seem as comfortable as Fletcher but she did a good job making her pitch that Fletcher can't be re-elected in the fall without sounding mean-spirited. Again, this is a primary and she clearly wants to instill in the base that if Fletcher wins the nomination the Dems win in the fall. Northup also pointed out that the state's unemployment rate is higher than the national average, which was a good point to counter Fletcher's claims about the strength of the economy during his administration.

Harper is a businessman who wants to run government like a business - a good concept but not always doable. Businesses need to turn a profit, government doesn't. That does not mean sound businesses practices can't be applied to government. But business owners are used to telling employers how to get something done; governors have to build consensus. That said, Harper did a decent job portraying himself as the outsider who can bring new ideas and approaches to state government. He does have some strong ideas about education and he made the point that job creation will be paramount in his administration.

From Bill Bryant’s Politics:

The Republican Debate on KET Monday night provided few surprises. Governor Fletcher tried to tout his accomplishments. Anne Northup tried to predict that Fletcher’s renomination would doom the GOP… She repeatedly said "We need a new standard bearer" and "We need to put this behind us," a reference to the merit hiring investigation. And Billy Harper tried to push his business background and said more than once that he would not run a negative campaign.

In staking their positions… the candidates were also working their strategy. Fletcher is trying to demonstrate that his administration’s accomplishments have been obscured by what he called again "a political witch hunt." Fletcher also pointed out that Attorney General Greg Stumbo is now running on a gubernatorial ticket as the governor predicted.

Northup was out to prove that she could be a tough leader and that as the party’s nominee she stands a better chance of winning. She pointed out that 29 members of the Fletcher administration were indicted and pardoned and that the governor pled the fifth amendment. The governor responded that he asserted his rights because it was in the best interest of the state.

And Harper went the route of saying he won’t run a negative campaign and would refrain from talking about the other candidates. He talked up his business experience. The issue of expanded gambling is likely to be higher stakes this fall now that the Republicans are all clear in their opposition to the idea…. while most Democrats say they’re for it.

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