FRANKFORT — At 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, state Rep. Leslie Combs stepped up to a microphone in the House chamber and said she and Speaker Greg Stumbo were announcing their candidacy for governor and lieutenant governor.
This "just kidding" moment highlighted the way a Combs-Stumbo press conference introducing a proposed amendment solidifying hunting and fishing rights for Kentuckians got overshadowed (not to mention deprived of virtually any media coverage) by an event scheduled for a half-hour later just a few blocks from the Capitol.
Senate President David Williams and Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer, Kentucky Republicans' "Dream Team," chose Wednesday morning to make it official. They've formed a Williams-Farmer slate for the 2011 gubernatorial race.
I still have doubts about the wisdom of Farmer hoisting someone often referred to as the "Bully from Burkesville" up on his popular shoulders. The former member of the University of Kentucky basketball "Unforgettables" was a lock if he had chosen to run for secretary of state. Now, he'll be part of what shapes up as a brutal campaign to unseat an incumbent governor, which is no small feat. But, hey, Farmer has confounded doubters before. Maybe he can do it again.
In a way, Combs' "just kidding" moment resembled the real thing more than the Williams-Farmer real thing did.
Most wannabes for statewide office who make their announcement in Frankfort do so in locations that can accommodate a host of supporters as well as the media. The front steps or Rotunda of the Capitol. A meeting room or ballroom at the Capital Plaza hotel.
Combs' joke on the floor of the roomy House, where she and Stumbo were joined by a number of other lawmakers, fit that pattern. Williams and Farmer, on the other hand, made their announcement at the Frankfort home Williams recently purchased — in a room that couldn't hold all of the media members, much less a gaggle of admirers.
Although a bit out of the norm for such events, it was not out of the norm for Williams. During his years as Senate president, he has demonstrated a distinct preference for meeting with the media on his own turf — in his Capitol office just off the Senate floor or in his finely appointed Capitol Annex digs. Guess it's a control thing.
One other aspect of Wednesday's announcement suggests control will be important to the Williams-Farmer campaign. Although word went out Tuesday evening about the 11 a.m. time, the location remained a secret until a couple of hours before the event.
Some things are beyond the control of a campaign, though.
As co-stars in the Frankfort comedy/drama (take your pick) in recent years, Williams and Farmer have been subjected to a bit of scrutiny. Now that they are auditioning for leading roles, the level of scrutiny will ramp up beyond anything they can imagine.
Not only will their past public and private lives be probed by the media and the opposition, everything they say will be parsed. For instance, Farmer recently gave voters reason to question how serious his interest in being lieutenant governor or governor is when he said his "dream job" would be UK athletics director. (Wonder if Gov. Steve Beshear has given any thought to figuring out if he could make that happen?)
Absent some negative outcome to the enhanced scrutiny they can expect now, a Williams-Farmer slate gives Republicans a shot at making Beshear a one-term governor. And he has some vulnerabilities.
Lack of revenue during a recessionary economy has limited his ability to build a record as much more than a caretaker chief executive. His new running mate, Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson, may be more detriment than asset in rural Kentucky because of the liberal stances he has taken on a variety of issues. Plus, the political pendulum is swinging toward Republicans these days.
Still, the advantages of incumbency are many; and the thing about pendulums is they eventually swing back. So, Williams and Farmer face some risks by getting in this race.
Normally, the risk would be mostly limited to the person at the top of the ticket. But with Farmer's popularity being considered so crucial in this case, his risk is losing the aura he has enjoyed as a Kentucky folk hero.
As for Williams, well, former House Speaker Jody Richards thought he could win gubernatorial election, too. Turns out he couldn't.
Weakened by his failure, he eventually couldn't win re-election as speaker. Williams could find himself similarly weakened by a loss in 2011.