Friday, July 11, 2008

McConnell and Patton: Did they have a secret deal in 1990s?

Did Sen. Mitch McConnell and former Gov. Paul Patton have a secret deal concerning the 1999 gubernatorial race and the 2002 U.S. Senate race?

Given McConnell's tougher-than-expected re-election campaign, and Patton's re-entry into the public spotlight through his recent appointment to the Council on Postsecondary Education, it might be time to revisit this subject, which was a matter of much discussion a decade ago.

Flash back to the late 1990s. Elected in 1995 in a tight race over Republican challenger Larry Forgy, Patton found himself the first governor in Kentucky's modern history able to succeed himself in office. Yet Patton was rumored to be after bigger and better things, namely a seat in the United States Senate.

Despite the power of the Kentucky Democrat machine being behind him in his re-election campaign, Patton was vulnerable on a couple of fronts. His push to remove the community colleges from the University of Kentucky system was highly unpopular across the state, and his proposal to gut the workers' compensation system had made him many enemies. Despite these vulnerabilities, and a deep-seated belief that he had lost the election in '95 only due to voter fraud, Forgy opted against another matchup with Patton. That left the GOP without an obvious legitimate challenger.

Patton, on the other hand, had two options for a Senate run. He could choose to run against McConnell in 2002, or against first-termer Jim Bunning two years later. The major problem with a race against Bunning was that if Patton won re-election to a second term in 1999, that term would expire in 2003 and he'd be out of office for a year before facing Bunning. If he chose to challenge McConnell, it would be during his second term as governor and he'd be able to use that office to his advantage.

Kentucky Republicans are used to having Senate seats; the political prize they covet in the state is the governorship. They had come oh-so-close with Forgy in 1995 and were thirsting to knock off Patton, whom they saw as beatable based on the two aforementioned policy matters. What they needed was enthusiastic support from the party's leaders, including McConnell, to find and field a formidable foe, especially since Forgy had ruled out another run.

But did McConnell have other ideas? Namely, preserving his own senate seat? No credible Republican gubernatorial challenger ever emerged in 1999, and the nomination went to a woefully outclassed Peppy Martin, who got absolutely no support from the state party or from high-ranking officials such as McConnell. Rank-and-file Republicans were left scratching their heads at why the party would basically give a free pass to the incumbent, whom they perceived as having some potentially fatal flaws.

At the time, a theory surfaced. It was widely speculated that McConnell and Patton had reached a deal. McConnell agreed not to recruit or back a legitimate GOP opponent for Patton, and in return Patton agreed not to run against McConnell for the Senate in 2002 and would delay his candidacy for two years until '04, when he would challenge Bunning.

Other Republicans pooh-poohed the idea. The implication was that if Patton didn't challenge McConnell, that left him free to run against Bunning in 2004. Those Republicans couldn't believe that McConnell would hang a fellow Republican like Bunning out to dry in such a manner.

Oh really now? McConnell's actions over the past three years prove he's more than capable of abandoning fellow Republicans, including some of his closest allies. A large number of Republicans still haven't forgotten how McConnell did nothing to help Gov. Ernie Fletcher, whom he'd enthusiastically supported in 2003, when Fletcher came under attack by Democrats bent on regaining power in state government.

And now some folks who aligned themselves with former U.S. Rep. Anne Northup's failed primary challenge to Fletcher last year are also expressing dissatisfaction with McConnell. They believe McConnell talked Northup into running against Fletcher in the 2007 Republican gubernatorial primary, then left her on her own and didn't provide support.

If McConnell did cut such a deal, turns out that it didn't do Bunning any harm. Patton's political career was subsequently derailed by a sex scandal, and Bunning stumbled to a victory in his 2004 re-election bid that turned Dan Mongiardo from a political lightweight into a credible politician with a future.

But McConnell's obviously alienated two factions within his own party. If Bruce Lunsford presents a serious challenge, McConnell will need committed Republican voters to support him. But if they are ambivalent to him, or outright hostile, based on his treatment of fellow Republicans, he may have more difficulty winning re-election than he expects. The Fletcherites are already mad at him, some to the point of threatening to sit out the Senate election. If he has Northupians angry, too, then he has problems in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 3-2.

Should McConnell lose to Lunsford, he can tie it directly to his own party's dissatisfaction with him for not expressing the proper amount of loyalty and support to other Republicans when they come under Democrat siege. And it would serve McConnell right.


At 12:17 AM, July 12, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

McConnell dislikes Bunning. He has tried to throw him under the bus for years.

McConnell is now pimping for Geoff Davis to run for Bunnings seat. He has taken Davis' campaign manager in as his own so he can get state wide experience.

McConnell did recruit Northup. He did it to "teach" Ernie a lesson. Ernie started out letting McConnell staff his administration and take credit for his election. Soon however, McConnell found that Ernie wasn't taking orders very well from McConnell's staff and his closest allies who he had placed inside the administration. One by one they started to bail.

Pretty soon Ernie had no cover. McConnell pretended to be too busy in DC to help Ernie when he was under fire and let him die alone on the battle field.

Just to make his presence known he promised Anne his full support. Then when he saw how she was received (poorly) by the rank and file, McConnell pretended to not even know her name. He distanced himself and let her twist in the wind. I'm not sure what disgusted the republicans in this state the most, the way he treated Ernie, or the way he treated the emotionally wounded Anne. Either way the hatred for McConnell is immeasurable.

He even took young and egotistically naieve Trey Grayson to lunch and tried to get him in the race. Trey was smart enough to play along until he could find a good excuse not to. He found that excuse, he was too immature to run that year and would do better four years later. Trey got some of his daddy's money friends to speak to Mitch and Mitch backed off. Guess who one of Trey's daddy's friends is. You guessed it, Bruce Lunsford.

Larry Cox, Mitch's rogue state director, has given the cold shoulder to more loyal republican candidates than you've got time to listen to. But there is a whisper campaign going on against Mitch that he cannot combat.

The many good republicans he has dissed over the years and many of their supporters are organizing to NOT VOTE in his race come November. He is going to get the same treatment he dished out over the years, IGNORED.

Why, you might ask, would good republicans risk losing this seat? The answer is clear. They know that Lunsford was recruited by McConnell to run in 2003 and then drop out and support Ernie. They also know that Lunsford has been offered a ton of dough to take a dive in this race against Mitch. While that happening can't be ruled out, everybody knows that Bruce has no real interest in giving up all of his other businesses in order to live on a Senator salary. Sooooo, six years from now, he is easy pickins', and the ones who see through Mitch's devious plan want him to become his own victim, lose the race to Lunsford, in a surprise to both of them, and then open up the chance for Trey to run for Governor and then run for Mitch's old seat in 2014 which by then will be shamefully depreciated by Lunsford.

In the meantime McConnell is plotting to let Davis take Bunning's seat in 2010. Only problem is, once people link Davis with McConnell he is out on his arse.


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