FRANKFORT — Trailing badly in the polls, Republican David Williams said Monday that a decade of bad press has hurt his campaign for the state's top office.
In an interview with the Herald-Leader's editorial board, the Republican nominee for governor said he has been portrayed unfairly as a bully by the media.
The Burkesville native, who has been president of the state Senate since 2000 and was first elected to the legislature in 1985, said he often shouldered the blame and political heat for unpopular stances taken by the Senate Republican caucus.
"Y'all have helped beat the hell out of me," Williams said, referring to the media.
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He has sometimes been referred to by his opponents and in editorials as the "Bully from Burkesville."
"Nobody in Burkesville calls me a bully," Williams said. "And few people in Frankfort do."
Williams' comments came on the heels of a new Louisville Courier-Journal/WHAS11 Bluegrass Poll that shows Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear's lead over Williams widening just five weeks before the Nov. 8 election.
Beshear led Williams by 31 percentage points, with 57 percent of the vote compared to Williams' 26 percent in the poll released during the weekend. Independent Gatewood Galbraith had 8 percent of the vote with 9 percent undecided. A Bluegrass Poll in July had Beshear leading Williams by 24 points.
The latest poll, which questioned 569 likely voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points, also showed that more people dislike Williams than like him.
Beshear and running mate Jerry Abramson also have amassed millions of dollars in campaign donations while Williams and running mate Richie Farmer have struggled to raise money.
As leader of the state Senate, Williams said he has been the point person for sometimes unpopular positions, even if he didn't agree with them personally. Until this year, he did not have to worry about how he was perceived across the state, he said.
"I probably haven't been as careful, worrying about whether people liked me or not," Williams said. "I've been able to do what I think is the right thing and take the blame" for politically unpopular stances.
Williams on Monday touted his political courage to make tough decisions and his plan to revamp Kentucky's economy as two key reasons why voters should cast their ballots for him.
He said he has been a long-time advocate for education, noting he was one of the few Republicans to vote for the landmark legislation that overhauled the state's education system in 1990.
More recently, Williams pushed for an overhaul in the state's testing system to change the way student achievement is measured.
To boost the economy, Williams said he wanted to suspend some corporate taxes in an effort to encourage businesses to hire more workers. In the long-term, he wants to create a task force to study the state's tax system, eliminate corporate and personal income taxes, and move toward consumption-based taxes such as the sales tax.
Beshear has touted his record of recruiting and retaining jobs in campaign advertisements, but Williams questioned Monday whether Beshear's programs have worked.
The state's economic incentive programs were revamped by the legislature at Beshear's request, but the Herald-Leader reported last week that some of the more than 19,000 jobs Beshear says he helped create have not materialized.
"I think he has done a bunch of really bad deals," Williams said of Beshear.
The Beshear camp has defended the governor's economic record, noting that most companies do not get any tax incentives unless they create the jobs they've promised.