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Democrats can't win without message

Most of the empirical evidence — poll numbers, new voter registration and campaign group bank accounts — points to November being a good one for Democrats, nationally.

Even Kentucky, which has moved toward the right over the last 20 years, is seeing hints of those trends.

The percentage of registered Democrats in the Bluegrass state, for instance, has ticked upward for the first time since between 1988 and 1989.

But to translate that into election wins in a couple of key federal races here in Kentucky, the Democratic candidates in those campaigns will have to develop a message and stick to it.

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Bruce Lunsford, after being put on the defensive by U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, finally launched his own attack at McConnell that ends with the familiar political tag line: ”It's time for a change.“

Lunsford has gotten off to a slow start in the campaign, and he recently replaced his media consultant with Michael Donilon, who has worked numerous Senate races.

”We think Mike has a quick mind. And this is a campaign where you've got to be agile, you've got to be quick,“ Lunsford said last week.

In ads, McConnell has dogged Lunsford on the issue of gas prices. At one point in McConnell's commercial it shows footage of Lunsford pumping gas for customers at an ”On the job“ campaign stop at a filling station. Lunsford is casually leaning to one side and looks slightly bored.

”I'm sure the McConnell people have polled on Lunsford and one of the things that has come back is that people get the impression that he's either egotistical or arrogant,“ said Danny Briscoe, a Louisville-based campaign consultant. ”So in that shot, he's got his hip hitched and it looks like a guy who's saying, "Why couldn't I find a full-service station?' The picture at the pump is worth a thousand words.“

Lunsford can compete with a well-funded McConnell campaign by pulling from his vast personal fortune. And Briscoe said Lunsford has the tools to turn into a strong candidate because he connects with people one-on-one — he just has to settle upon a core message quickly.

After all, that's something at which McConnell excels.

McConnell repeatedly mentions in interviews the clout he has as Senate Republican leader. And when asked whether Democrats could ride a wave of momentum into Kentucky, he points to polling that shows Republican presidential candidate John McCain leading handily in the state.

However, he deflected questions about whether Lunsford's ”Time for a change“ argument will be a difficult one to handle.

”I'm not going to get into critiquing all the ads,“ he said Friday.

The Democrats' other best chance to pick up a seat in Congress from Kentucky is the 2nd Congressional District, which is held by retiring Republican U.S. Rep. Ron Lewis, R-Cecilia.

Although that has been one of the most conservative-voting districts in recent elections, 5,370 new Democrats have signed up on the voter rolls since November 2007 compared with 2,010 Republicans.

During that span, Democrats gained more voters than Republicans did in every county in the district except Hart, LaRue and Spencer.

And a SurveyUSA poll earlier this summer showed state Sen. David Boswell, the Democratic candidate, slightly ahead of Republican state Sen. Brett Guthrie, 47 percent to 44 percent — an indication that given the choice between two largely unknown candidates, respondents were leaning toward the Democrats.

But Boswell, so far, hasn't wowed the national party.

He has so far failed to crack the list of candidates on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's ”Red to Blue“ program for open seats, a program that helps that party's candidates with fund-raising and support.

Boswell is on the group's secondary list of ”emerging races.“

That's largely because he hasn't yet shown the fund-raising prowess to keep pace with Guthrie, who has amassed more than $660,000 compared to Boswell's $45,000.

U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler, D-Versailles, said Boswell has called him but hasn't yet asked him to help with fund-raising.

Chandler said the message for all Democrats running for Congress should be as simple as ”Time for a change“ — just like Lunsford has started to say, and just like the line Republican Ernie Fletcher used in 2003 to defeat Chandler in the governor's race.

”It's so basic,“ Chandler said. ”That's what the Democrats did in the 2006 election — they just talked about change and a new direction and they didn't really say much about anything else.“

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