Thursday, May 17, 2007

Cyber Hillbilly Bemoans Republican Climate

To paraphrase Tom Paine, These are the days that try Republicans’ souls. In Kentucky, this is doubly true. Republicans still bear the scars of a tough and brutal 2006 mid-term election that saw Republicans lose most of the impressive power they derived from their standard bearers being in the Congressional majority. Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell, Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Hal Rogers, Congresswoman Anne Northup… never happened… not any more.

On the state level Kentucky Republicans are engaged in the most brutal primary contest that many have ever seen. Their Governor, the man they fought for so happily not four years ago, has been mired in political troubles and faces near record low unpopularity. A mere 36% of Kentucky voters approve of the job of the current administration and most Republicans give every indication of preferring another candidate. In just a few days… a few weeks at the outside, Kentucky Republicans will choose—perhaps be saddled with—a nominee.

Regardless of who wins the GOP nomination, the party’s in deep trouble. For decades Kentucky Republicans attempted to overcome the fact that Democrats were more popular in local elections by concentrating on their strengths as anti-establishment outsiders secure in the knowledge that the national GOP brand would pull them over the hump. That worked twice in the past 50 years: 1967 and 2003. Now, thanks to a war that presents only terrible choices, and the fact that Americans now realize that power corrupts Republicans as absolutely as it corrupted Democrats, that once strong national brand is likely an albatross in a state where Democrats still outnumber Republicans nearly two to one.

If the nominee is Anne Northup, the former Congresswoman must simultaneously bridge the urban-rural divide, introduce herself to the majority of Kentucky voters, and heal relations with those supporters of Governor Fletcher who aren’t dependent on state patronage and therefore don’t care if she wins or loses. In my mind, she faces an easier challenge than the other candidates. She’s well known and obviously loved by nearly 49% of all voters in the 3rd Congressional District, that vaunted Republican killer that put to rest any hopes of Governor Forgy. She’ll be able to raise money from those who currently fear to give to an opponent of the sitting Governor, regardless of how unpopular that Governor may be; and her record of compassionate conservativism will probably play well with the majority of Democratic voters who have faith, both in the state's ability to ease their burdens and, more importantly, in God. But make no mistake about it, Anne Northup, like the other GOP candidates, will be the underdog in November.

If Billy Harper somehow manages to pull off a miracle and put his millions to good use in such a way that wins him the nomination, he’ll be the most unknown candidate to win the GOP nomination since Bob Gable made his Quixotic bid against Jullian Carroll in 1975. Harpers' millions would buy him plenty of advertising. And it’s just possible that an outsider would gain traction. But his lack of electoral charisma and political base make him the longest of the GOP longshots.

But what of Ernie Fletcher? We fought so hard for you, Governor, back in 2003. We believed you when you said you could clean up the mess in Frankfort. We shared in your victory celebration triumph at the Marriott-Griffin Gate and laughed heartily at the joke “if he can only find a good speechwriter.” Four years later, the majority of Republicans are so disappointed that they prefer another candidate. While Republicans have a laundry list of complaints, most boil down to one thing: Republicans want a winner who’ll advance the conservative cause—if they don’t feel you’re such, they ain’t for you. If the Governor wins the nomination, the party will be deeply divided. Most of those who supported Northup had nothing to lose. They were either outsiders or so comfortably ensconced in the GOP establishment that they had nothing to fear.

Will Ernie Fletcher have the magnanimity to both forgive those who fought against him, and simultaneously motivate those who weren’t for him? Can he reign in those young braves who’ll have won him his primary and who’ll be hell bent on taking Northup scalps? That’s a tough political act. But until Ernie Fletcher pulls his base behind him, he can’t begin to take on the really tough part of this year’s campaign: beating Steve Beshear, the likely Democratic nominee.

Beshear’s not the best candidate the Democrats could have run. But he’s the best candidate in the current mix of Democratic contenders. And the presence of Dan Mongiardo will keep Eastern Kentucky solidly in the Democratic camp and may create opportunities in the eastern half of the old fifth. Beshear will have the wind at his back. And the only way the Governor can beat him is by running such a negative campaign that the voters decide to overlook Republicans’ woes and vote for what they’ll be told, indirectly of course, is the lesser of two evils.

Whether Kentucky Republicans can pull off another victory is very much in doubt. But they’ll have to try. Too much is riding on this election. Beshear and Mongiardo might not be content to stay in Frankfort forever. Jack Conway will be waiting in the wings—one Louisville Republican has already indicated that the man has the ambition and quite possibly the talent to be President of the United States. Trey Grayson, the GOP's wunderkind... a man who openly bucked the Governor only to be rewarded by Larry "the Fletcher Hatchetman" Forgy's prediction that he'll someday be Governor... his fate may be tied to how well the GOP’s gubernatorial nominee does. And if Dems sweep this year, they’ll have Kentucky’s Senior Senator in their crosshairs in 08 and Bunning in 2010.

Yes, these are trying times for Republicans. To paraphrase Thomas Paine again: “The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their party; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of every conservative.”

Easy for Paine to say; he had George Washington to rally the troops.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

US President Tim Kalemkarian, US Senate Tim Kalemkarian, US House Tim Kalemkarian: best major candidate.
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