Thursday, January 22, 2009

Cannibalism is no way to build a majority

When you're the minority party in a state, outnumbered 2-1 in voter registration and with the majority holding most all the state and local offices of significance, the last thing you do if you're trying to become the majority is to eat your own.

So we have to ask Scott Jennings what in the world he's thinking if he wants to challenge a popular incumbent Republican congressman in the primary next year.

Jennings, a former campaign aide for U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell's 2002 re-election bid and former Gov. Ernie Fletcher's successful 2003 candidacy and a former low-level official in the George W. Bush administration, is apparently toying with the idea of running for elective office in his home state. Since Jennings is a native of Dawson Springs (just like Gov. Steve Beshear) he seems to have his eyes on the 1st District seat currently held by the immensely popular Ed Whitfield. Brett Hall at kypolitics.org broke this story earlier this week to lots of interested consumers of political news in the Bluegrass.

Whitfield is the first Republican ever elected to Congress from Kentucky's westernmost district, where Democrats have an even more significant voter registration majority than they do in the rest of the state. (We know of a onetime Richard Nixon campaign volunteer who worked the Purchase area in 1972 who said of one of the counties, "They have fewer than 100 Republicans and there's three factions!")

Despite the registration deficit, Whitfield continues to take on all comers and keeps his seat. He even won last year despite the poisonous environment for Republicans in the nation. The opposition has tried to throw all kinds of mud at him, including the charge that he does not actually live in Kentucky, but none of it has ever stuck. (Note to Democrats: If you really believe Whitfield lives in Florida and not Hopkinsville, file a legal challenge to his residency. Otherwise, shut your traps.)

Given Whitfield's political strength and prowess in repeatedly winning in hostile territory, why in the world would Jennings even consider challenging him? Unless Jim Bunning decides to retire from the U.S. Senate and Whitfield enters that race, he's pretty much a shoo-in to win re-election again next year. If Jennings is successful in the primary, there's no guarantee that he'd be anywhere near as successful as Whitfield in the exceedingly-Democrat district.

When you're the minority, you absolutely have to stick together and be united if you are going to succeed and work toward being the majority. Yet Republicans can't ever seem to learn that lesson. Fletcher faced an uphill battle in his re-election bid in 2007, and it wasn't helped when prominent state Republicans effectively sided with Greg Stumbo during his politically-motivated investigation into the administration's hiring practices. Instead of rallying around their embattled governor, they abandoned him, then when two of his former friends and supporters challenged him in the primary, they caused him to use up resources that would have been valuable, and put to much better use, in the general election.

And now we have an upstart Republican operative, whose only experience has been as a campaign worker and who has no elective office background, wanting to challenge a popular incumbent in the primary?

This is insane. We are generally fans of Jennings and appreciate what he's done in the past, but we can't support any effort by him to challenge Whitfield. It just doesn't make sense.

If Jennings is hell-bent on running for Congress in his first race out of the chute, there are two Democrats representing Kentucky that need to be removed from the Capitol. Jennings should move to Louisville and take on John Yarmuth, before he becomes entrenched in that office. Anne Northup failed to dislodge Yarmuth from the seat he won from her in 2006; if Yarmuth isn't beaten this next time, he's probably going to be there for awhile to Kentucky's detriment.

Or he can move to Lexington or Frankfort and challenge Ben Chandler, who won a special election for Fletcher's old 6th District seat primarily on name recognition from their just-concluded gubernatorial battle and the famous moniker he carries, handed down from Grandpappy Happy. That might be a taller challenge than unseating Yarmuth, but it can be done by the right candidate with the right platform.

As long as Republicans continue to eat their own, they'll never come close to being a majority in this state. Party registration in Kentucky is such that in a statewide race, Democrats can splinter into two equal factions and their candidate can still beat the Republican. A split in the GOP equals disaster. A challenge by Jennings to Whitfield would no doubt split the Western Kentucky Republicans and possibly give the Democrat an easy walk to election.

When Republicans become the majority, then they can act like Democrats and have all kinds of family fights and hurt feelings. Right now, we don't have that luxury. Party unity, already reeling from the 2007 governor's race, is vital. A challenge from Jennings to Whitfield is something we can't afford. We urge Jennings to exercise good judgment and refrain from running against one of our incumbents. Yarmuth and Chandler need to go, Whitfield doesn't.

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