Tuesday, May 22, 2007

What Republicans Need

From Kentucky Progress:

Republicans and Democrats may have their nominees for governor today or maybe we will have to wait until next month for a run-off. Either way, the GOP needs a nominee who can and will actively pull people together. The GOP needs a nominee who can and will promote conservative values and issues credibly.

The presence of a weak Democratic opponent might make these vital party-building and state-salvaging duties seem superfluous. But shirking now could hurt Kentucky for a long time. The Republican party works best when it is a party of ideas and principles. Pining for larger-than-life personalities like Lincoln or Reagan is satisfying on some level, but the strength of solid values -- and not the power of individual characters -- generates cohesion and enduring success.

Billy Harper is the party's best chance to govern Kentucky the next four years because more than the fresh start most of us agree we need, he offers the best commitment to fiscal responsibility and realistic improvement in education in the whole field.

Every Candidate: Vote For Me

From the Kentucky Post:

Gov. Ernie Fletcher and a big lineup of candidates wanting his job covered lots of ground and shook every hand in reach Monday as their campaigns neared the finish line amid predictions of a low turnout for today's primary election.

Candidates traveled by air and ground to reach as many voters as possible in the last full day of a campaign overshadowed by Fletcher's fight for political survival. The governor faced two challengers, while six Democrats competed for their party's gubernatorial nomination.

Voters had plenty of down-the-ticket choices as they prepared to select nominees for attorney general, state treasurer, secretary of state and agriculture commissioner. Secretary of State Trey Grayson, who oversees Kentucky elections, had predicted 85 percent of Kentucky's registered voters won't bother to go the polls today. His spokesman, Les Fugate, was optimistic Monday that turnout could be slightly higher than earlier forecast, noting an upswing in absentee balloting statewide in the past week. Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. local time.

Scott Lasley, a political scientist at Western Kentucky University, said the campaign had been "surprisingly lackadaisical," considering the drama of a seemingly vulnerable incumbent facing a strong challenge within his party, plus a competitive race among Democrats. Joe Gershtenson, director of the Center for Kentucky History and Politics at Eastern Kentucky University, agreed, saying, "For whatever reason, it just has not seemed to have gotten the public really excited."

Kentuckians won't have the weather as an excuse for not turning out to vote. Forecasters predicted mostly sunny conditions statewide today with highs in the 80s. In the Republican primary, Fletcher's rivals are former U.S. Rep. Anne Northup and Paducah businessman Billy Harper, his finance chairman in the 2003 campaign. The challengers claimed Fletcher was irreparably harmed by his indictment last year on charges that he illegally rewarded political supporters with state jobs. The charges were dismissed in a negotiated agreement with prosecutors.

Fletcher has maintained the special grand jury's investigation was politically motivated. He claims that Attorney General Greg Stumbo, now the running mate of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bruce Lunsford, pursued the charges for political gain. Fletcher led in a recent statewide poll in The Courier-Journal of Louisville. The governor said it was a reflection that voters are looking past the investigation. "People realize the true mark of leadership is results, and we've gotten outstanding results," Fletcher said Monday between stops during a multi-city fly-around of Kentucky.

Fletcher said he was hopeful of a clear-cut victory without a runoff. Unless someone gets at least 40 percent of the vote, the top two finishers will compete in a June 26 runoff. Northup, who campaigned in heavily Republican areas of rural Kentucky before a rally in Louisville, her hometown, said she would tap into dissatisfaction with Fletcher. "I feel like there's still a lot of people that haven't made up their minds, but they don't want Ernie Fletcher," she said.

Harper, who logged 42,000 miles on his campaign bus in recent months, had stops in GOP-leaning cities in Southern Kentucky before winding up on election eve in Paducah. Harper waged an extensive television campaign that started last year, bankrolling most of his campaign himself.

Meanwhile, the Democratic primary might not produce a nominee but simply narrow the field. Lunsford said a runoff in the Democratic race seemed a likelihood. Still, he said many voters were undecided or not totally committed to a candidate. "I think there's an awful lot of soft support out there," Lunsford said while campaigning in Henderson and Owensboro in Western Kentucky. "That means they can still change their mind late, which could have an impact."

Another Democratic candidate, Steve Beshear, a former lieutenant governor and attorney general, said that avoiding a runoff was "certainly a possibility."

"We're going to end up in the lead and be in the lead substantially tomorrow," said Beshear, who had rallies planned in Louisville, Shelbyville and Lexington on Monday. "I think the only open question is whether we can get to that 40 percent."

The Louisville newspaper's recent poll showed Beshear with a lead. Other Democrats running are House Speaker Jody Richards, former Lt. Gov. Steve Henry, Lexington lawyer Gatewood Galbraith and eastern Kentucky demolition contractor Otis Hensley Jr. Richards continued his focus on Western Kentucky as he spent Monday campaigning in Warren County, his home, and neighboring counties. Henry made more than a half-dozen stops during a campaign swing Monday.

Party Healing Crucial

From the Kentucky Post:

Stung by a critical television ad his opponent ran late in the 2003 Democratic gubernatorial primary, Bruce Lunsford didn't just drop out of the race in protest - he also crossed party lines to support the then-Republican nominee Ernie Fletcher in the fall election. Both Lunsford and Democrats have regretted that decision ever since.

Fletcher, of course, went on to earn an easy win over Ben Chandler that put the Republicans in the Governor's Mansion for the first time in three decades. And Lunsford - again trying to become the Democratic nominee for governor - has struggled to win back party loyalists who say he betrayed them. It was a good lesson in how the party has to get behind the nominee, said Lunsford's press secretary Adam Bozzi, who calls the candidate tougher, wiser and more prepared for the harshness of politics. "He's not going to make that same mistake twice," Bozzi said.

As voters head to the polls today to select the major party nominees for the November governor's race, the specter of the 2003 race looms as a shadow over party activists smarting from a competitive primary. Regardless of the outcome of today's election - or of the June 26 runoff, should there be one - leaders of both parties say it's critical, urgent even, that the various candidates and their supporters put aside their differences and unite behind their nominee. Republicans have scheduled a Unity Rally for Saturday at state GOP headquarters and have meetings of both the party's central committee and executive committee, presumably to talk about fall strategy, set for June 2.

Democratic candidates, meanwhile, all signed a pledge committing them to a "Democrats United 2007" theme back in February. "The people of this state are tired of negative campaigning, tired of inter-party bickering," Chairman Jerry Lundergan said about the initiative.

But coming together could prove challenging for several reasons:

On the Republican side, the incumbent Fletcher and his chief opponent, former Louisville Congresswoman Anne Northup, have begun running ads, issuing press releases and making speeches attacking each other with increasing intensity. Other than calling Fletcher "unelectable," the third candidate, Paducah businessman Billy Harper, has tried to stay out of the fray.

Bridging the gap between the Northup and Fletcher camps could prove more difficult because the divisions are thought to be deep - conventional wisdom says that Northup was recruited to the race by U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, who is not known to be a big fan of the governor.

On the Democrat side, the tenor has been slightly less caustic but almost as divisive simply because of the sheer number of candidates - seven Democrats, each with their own following, were in the race until state Treasurer Jonathan Miller dropped out May 7. Now there are six: former Lt. Gov. Steve Beshear; longtime Speaker of the House Jody Richards; former Lt. Gov. Steve Henry; Lexington attorney Gatewood Galbraith; Eastern Kentucky demolition contractor Otis Hensley and Lunsford.

This year, for the first time in Kentucky political history, the primary result might not determine the November candidates. A relatively new law forces a two-candidate runoff election on June 26 should the top candidate in each party not get 40 percent of the primary vote. A runoff would essentially lengthen the primary season by five weeks and create the possibility of a brutal head-to-head campaign that could widen party divisions. Naturally, leaders from both parties say they will have no problem patching up differences before the fall, but to what extent that's true or a self-fulfilling prophecy is arguable.

On the Republican side, Northup has ripped Fletcher's administration as a scandal-ridden embarrassment and has run from the beginning on the message that she's the better candidate because he's unelectable in the fall. Fletcher has berated her constantly for being "negative" and calls her campaign rife with "hypocrisy."

Northup's strategy is gutsy and risky, said Kevin Sell, GOP chairman of the 4th Congressional District in Northern Kentucky. But a lot of its impact will depend on how it's perceived. If voters and Fletcher supporters take it personally on a gut level, then there could be some problems, he said. Or they could see it as an acceptable primary-type strategy and move on. He personally thinks things have been OK - so far. "Is it aggressive? Absolutely. Does it cross the line? Not necessarily," Sell said.

Fletcher spokesman Marty Ryall dismisses the attacks in the GOP primary so far as "internal squabbling" not unlike what families have. The governor hasn't seen or heard anything that would keep him from reaching out to Northup and Harper should he win or supporting them should he lose. "You don't get very far in politics without have a thick skin," Ryall said. "Sometimes things are said in the primary and sometimes during the general election that you wish they hadn't said those things, but ... you move on."

It helps that in the 2003 election, Fletcher's primary opponent, former Jefferson County Judge-Executive Rebecca Jackson, enthusiastically threw her support to Fletcher for the general election campaing, Sell said, unlike what Lunsford did with Chandler. That has created an expectation of professionalism and class among Republican candidates - "humble in victory and gracious in defeat," Sell said.

And then there's this - Republicans who don't line up behind the nominee can basically write off their political future because they won't get party support, Sell said. Justin Brasell, chief of staff for Northern Kentucky's congressman, Geoff Davis, said fears about party disunity are overblown. Most of the fighting is among a very small group of party activists who represent a tiny percentage of the electorate, he said. Come November, everything will be fine, he said.

Davis, who has made a calculated decision to remain neutral in the primary, will strongly support the nominee no matter who it is, Brasell said. As such, Davis and other GOP members of Kentucky's federal delegation can do much to bring the party back together simply by example, Brasell said. Democrats, not surprisingly, have a different view of the Northup-Fletcher attacks. The Republican primary "is going to leave some scars," said Democrat Paul Patton, who was governor from 1995 to 2003. "It's been pretty rough."

In contrast, the Democrats have been more polite, although not entirely so. Henry recently decided to pull two TV ads that attacked Lunsford's business record and Beshear's record as attorney general, another position he held. And after a recent debate, several candidates attacked Beshear's support for expanded gambling and his use of the state plane while lieutenant governor. But those attacks were "fair," said Lundergan, the state party chairman, because they focused on issues and stances and statements. "I don't think those were personal attacks," he said.

Patton, who is a former party chairman in addition to governor, agreed, saying so far there's not been "anything for anybody to get upset about."

That could change with a runoff, which by its nature could get a little more contentious, Patton said. And he, too, has heard some Democrats say they remain so upset at Lunsford that should he be the nominee, they'll stay home Election Day or vote Republican. But he scoffed at those statements, saying in the end Democrats will be motivated by the mere presence of Fletcher in the governor's seat. "Even if there's a contentious run-off, there won't be 100 Democrats who will be so upset they won't vote or will vote for a Republican," Patton said. "Having been out four years, we'll be anxious to get behind whoever the nominee is."

And that nominee can do much simply by reaching out to the losing candidates and ask for their support. "Sometimes that's all it takes," Patton said.

Elendil’s Journal Questions GOTV

I have never understood all of the fuss about getting people to vote. I understand why political campaigns have a vested interest in GOTV efforts. They want to maximize their chances of winning and that is understandable. But I don't understand the pleas by anyone else to get the general public out to vote.

By the time you leave school you should have a pretty good understanding of the importance of voting in America. If not then our education system has failed. Since I don't think our educational system has collapsed that far, it is safe to say that 99% of Americans understand the right to vote.

But if that still isn't enough to motivate you into exercising that right, then please don't vote! The way I look at it is quite simple. If you can't take a small amount of time out of your day to exercise one of our most important and fundamental rights we have as Americans, then you probably don't know who the candidates are or what issues are being debated. If you don't know either of those then your vote is going to be for all practical purposes random. And if I wanted a random way to select governmental representatives then I would be clamoring for a lottery system instead of elections.

So you are not going to see me hand wringing over the fact that only 15% of the voting public is going to vote today. In fact, I am happy that those who don't care are staying away from the ballot box.
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