January 30, 2007

Bluegrass Politics: The Democratic scrum

Editor’s note: After LEO went to press, information surfaced about a possible Charlie Owen-Ed Hatchett gubernatorial ticket in the Democratic primary, which is mentioned in this piece. Hatchett now says he won’t run, leaving Owen to scramble for a running mate before the Jan. 30 filing deadline comes and goes.In the game of rugby, play begins with what is known as the scrum, when players of each team crouch side by side, with locked arms, as the ball is thrown in between them and the sides compete for possession. Much the same could be said about what is emerging among the wide-open Democratic gubernatorial field that hopes to retake the governor’s mansion in November.There’s plenty of time to handicap the field later, so I thought we’d start with a quick introduction of the teams and the challenges each side must overcome. Remember, if the winner fails to receive at least 40 percent of primary vote, the top two finishers have a run-off election a month later.Here are the tickets, in order of their entry in the race:State Treasurer Jonathan Miller and Jefferson County Attorney Irv MazeStrength: Miller is the only current statewide officeholder to run for governor, is an adept fundraiser and should appeal to young and new voters and the progressive community; Maze is a very popular elected official in Louisville with a strong local political machine.Weakness:  Miller must convince voters that eight years as state treasurer is sufficient grooming to run the state; can they stand out in a crowd of “characters”?Main challenge: Is rural Kentucky ready to embrace a 39-year-old Jewish candidate?Former Lt. Gov. Steve Beshear and State Sen. Daniel MongiardoStrength: Beshear considered a good guy, and his term as attorney general well-regarded; Mongiardo’s near-upset of Sen. Jim Bunning in 2004 still fresh in minds of Democratic voters.Weakness: Beshear has lost two statewide races (1987 governor, 1996 Senate) and hasn’t been in office in 20 years; Greg Stumbo neutralizes benefit of Mongiardo’s Eastern Kentucky base.Main challenge: Is Beshear too rusty to compete in wide-open field?Former Lt. Gov. Steve Henry and Fayette County PVA Rene TrueStrength: Henry probably best-known gubernatorial candidate after eight years as Gov. Patton’s No. 2, and is married to former Miss America Heather French Henry.Weakness: Henry’s tenure marked with ethical and legal problems; had serious trouble finding running mate, eventually settling on someone whose only apparent electoral benefit is gender.Main challenge: Can Henry overcome negative perception among primary voters in crowded field?Lexington Attorney Gatewood Galbraith and former Transportation engineer Mark WiremanStrength: Though a perennial candidate, Galbraith is a smart “outsider” candidate who may alter dynamics of wide-open race.Weakness: Best known as proponent of medical marijuana, Galbraith garnered just 5 percent and 9 percent in previous Democratic gubernatorial primaries.Main challenge: Can Galbraith be seen as serious candidate or just spoiler?Speaker of the House Jody Richards and former Secretary of State John Y. Brown IIIStrength: Richards-Brown considered good ethical guys; Richards benefits from near-upset victory in 2003 gubernatorial primary while running positive campaign; Brown a solid choice as No. 2 — former governor’s son, two terms as Secretary of State.Weakness: Neither known for fundraising ability, essential in crowded primary; Richards’ embrace of teaching creationism in science classes won’t fly in urban areas; Stumbo’s entry will erode support among legislators.Main challenge: Can Richards raise enough money to be heard, and is he willing to punch back when hit?Louisville businessman Bruce Lunsford and Attorney General Greg StumboStrength: Lunsford brings money, and Stumbo is well-loved by many Democratic rank-and-file and is only current statewide officeholder as running mate; will be well-positioned financially in case of run-off election.Weakness: Lunsford spent $8 million attacking Ben Chandler in 2003 gubernatorial primary, then dropped out with days to go, eventually endorsing Republican Ernie Fletcher; contributed to Republican Anne Northup last year during race against John Yarmuth, and has donated to Kentucky Republican Party; Stumbo still criticized for letting Fletcher off the hook, criminally.Main challenge: Is Lunsford’s money enough to neutralize enormous personal negatives and animosity among Democratic base?Louisville businessman Charlie Owen and former Auditor Ed Hatchett (rumored to be running, but not yet announced)Strength: Owen can match Lunsford in personal wealth and may benefit from buyer’s remorse in electing Fletcher-Pence over Chandler-Owen in 2003; Hatchett did solid job in two terms as auditor.Weakness: Between them, they have lost last four bids for statewide office; while very smart, Owen struggles in artificial environment of campaign requiring message discipline, quick decisions, simple themes.Main challenge: Has Owen learned to focus on only being a candidate and allow others to manage campaign and strategy? Mark Nickolas is publisher of Kentucky’s most widely read political blog, BluegrassReport.org. Contact him at Mark@BluegrassReport.org