While battling the most prolific fund-raiser and one of the toughest campaigners in Kentucky history, Bruce Lunsford's campaign for the U.S. Senate must also put to rest Lunsford's own checkered past with Democrats.
He got a big boost to that end last week, when Lunsford was introduced to the Franklin County Democratic executive committee by his chief rival in the spring primary, Greg Fischer.
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The two men — both successful Louisville businessmen — shook hands and joked with each other in their first public appearance since a staged ”unity rally“ days after the May 20 primary.
”Any chance I get I'll be speaking for Bruce,“ Fischer told the Herald-Leader.
And Lunsford stressed to more than 30 Democratic activists from Franklin County Tuesday evening that he will need a unified and energized wave of party faithful to have a shot at unseating powerful U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republicans' Senate leader.
The make-up between Fischer and Lunsford follows a rough-and-tumble primary in which the two Democrats, who each helped bankroll their campaigns with parts of their personal fortunes, traded critical ads.
The sometimes bitter tones of last spring's primary conjured up memories of 2003 when Lunsford and Ben Chandler went for each other's political jugulars.
In the end, Fischer said, all is fair in politics and all is forgiven.
Chandler, meanwhile, remains the last big question mark for Lunsford. Now a congressman, Chandler said he and Lunsford have moved past the brutally negative '03 primary that culminated with Lunsford dropping out of the race three days before the primary and backing Republican Ernie Fletcher against Chandler in the fall.
”Oh yeah, we don't have any problems,“ Chandler said last month, although he declined to say whether he will formally endorse Lunsford.
At Tuesday's Frankfort Democratic group meeting, Franklin County Judge-Executive Ted Collins said he and Chandler had lunch the day before and mentioned Lunsford would be in town to ask for the Democratic activists' support.
”I said "How do you feel about that?' And he said, "I think it's a great idea for all of us to help him,'“ Collins said.
Lunsford said he spoke with Chandler last winter before he entered the race against McConnell.
”I will say without his help and without his acknowledging that, I could not have gotten the labor support during the primary,“ he said.
”As many of you know, he's very popular with labor across the state and without that I could not have gotten their support.“
Lunsford also told the Democrats gathered in a second-floor meeting room on Broadway that he has spent the last five years trying to atone for the nasty accusations he traded with Chandler.
”I learned a lot of lessons in my first race. In 2003, I had never been in politics,“ he said. ”It turned out to be an experience at the time that wasn't pleasant for me, but also I didn't handle it well. But I've always been somebody who says, "Hey, I do make mistakes.'“
Later, Lunsford said a formal endorsement event featuring Lunsford and Chandler likely won't come until after they return from the Democratic National Convention in Denver at the end of the month.
”He wants to get through the convention before we actually do,“ Lunsford said.
As for Fischer, he made an 11-minute introductory plea for Democrats to work on Lunsford's behalf, although he mostly couched it in terms of ousting McConnell rather than electing Lunsford.
”I am more fired up right now, even though I'm not even running for this office because this guy — McConnell — reminds me every time I turn on the TV, why I was mad,“ he said.
He added later that Democrats need to organize on Lunsford's behalf.
”It's got to be done with excitement and it's got to be done with passion,“ he said. ”This is just not something where we can go through the motions.“