Here we are, two weeks into Anne Northup’s gubernatorial candidacy, and we have yet to see anything positive that can come of it for Kentucky’s Republicans.
If you thought the 1991 primary battle between anointed front-runner Larry Hopkins and late entrant Larry Forgy was bad, then we’ll cue up an old Bachman-Turner Overdrive song for you.
Knowing Gov. Ernie Fletcher as we do, we don’t expect him to go negative on his main opponent, Anne Northup, or secondary rival Billy Harper. Fletcher is a good, honest, decent man who has been treated unfairly by his own party even as he has had to fend off attacks from the Democrats. We’re still very angry and upset at the conduct of this state’s Republican leaders for their utter failure to work in their governor’s defense. In our eyes, they are no better than the Stumboites who have made it their goal to bring Fletcher down since it became apparent on Election Night 2003 that he was going to be the state’s new governor.
As Northup, Harper, Sen. Jim Bunning and others continue to say, “Fletcher cannot win re-election and we need to keep the governorship in GOP hands,” we continue to say, “Why didn’t you do something to preserve Fletcher’s viability instead of staying silent and letting the Stumboites run roughshod over him?”
To borrow and take liberties with a phrase used by President Bush, you are either with Ernie Fletcher or you are with the Democrats.
We digress, but we can’t help it. Our collective blood boils as the treatment Fletcher has received from those supposedly on the same team.
As we examine Northup’s candidacy, we have tried to see what positive effects it can have on Kentucky’s Republican Party and our hopes for conservative government. We aren’t finding any. We’re looking for a silver lining and we’re finding only clouds.
Predictably, with the Democrats being out of power, a whole bunch of them lined up to run for the seat in an attempt to take back what they feel is their birthright. That may end up weakening the eventual Democrat nominee’s general election support – and the as-yet-uncertain fate of the runoff provision factors into that – but the problem with Kentucky politics is that the Democrats don’t have to be united to win a statewide race.
One look at the statewide party registration numbers tells you that. Although the GOP has made definite gains in the last few years, the Democrats still enjoy a pretty healthy advantage. Figures from last year show that nearly 60 percent of registered voters in Kentucky are Democrats, while only 35 percent are Republicans.
Do the math. If the runoff provision holds up, the eventual Democrat nominee will win with at least 40 percent of his party’s vote. If that support holds for the general election, he will only need to pick up about 20 percent or so of his primary opponent’s support in the general election no matter how unified the Republicans are. We expect the Democrat primary to be a wild affair with hard feelings abounding after it’s over, especially if it goes to overtime. It’s highly possible the Democrats won’t be a united party after the primary.
That’s why it’s imperative that the Republicans have a united front in this election. The GOP should have rallied around Fletcher to help dress his Stumbo-inflicted wounds and protect him from further damage, but they turned their backs on him. It’s already created hard feelings within the party and those hard feelings are going to fester over the next few months.
We have no idea what Northup’s supporters – or Harper’s, for that matter -- will do if Fletcher wins the primary. For the moment we’ll take the candidates at their word that they’re in the race for the benefit of the party, so we think that should translate into support for Fletcher.
But should Northup win, we certainly wouldn’t blame Fletcher’s supporters if they stayed home in November. Why should they show any loyalty to the party that has shown no loyalty to them? We haven’t heard any Friends of Governor Fletcher say they’ll vote for the Democrat nominee, but we have heard a few say they will vote for, but not campaign for or financially support, Northup. And we have heard some say they’ll stay home or cast no vote in the governor’s race in protest of how the party and its leaders have treated their governor.
Now more than ever, Kentucky’s Republicans need to be united, not divided. But apparently someone didn’t tell Northup, Harper, Bunning and far too many others. The Democratic lineup of candidates is not awe-inspiring by any means and none are guaranteed a win over Fletcher, even with the Stumbo stain still on him. The merit system probe doesn’t resonate with the average Kentuckian, and Fletcher does have a record of accomplishments to run on.
We’ve tried. We’ve attempted to give Northup the benefit of the doubt. But we still see no positives in her candidacy. In fact, we see this intra-party challenge to our state’s first Republican governor in three decades as a sad setback to our party’s rise to relevance in Kentucky. We expected the Democrats to go after Fletcher. We never expected his own party to turn on him.
The divisions brought about by the anti-Fletcher contingent will be deep and hard to heal. In 2003, Fletcher was a candidate most all Republicans could rally around. Nothing’s changed since then, except some Democrats got him in their gun sights. This state’s Republicans have shown cowardice by not directly confronting the Stumboites, and all of Kentucky will suffer for it.
There is no silver lining in this overcast sky for Kentucky Republicans. Only the threat of storms looms overhead.