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Palin jolt energizes Kentucky GOP

Conservative Republicans — even those in Kentucky — admitted that they were in need of a pick-me-up or some political caffeine to get excited about the Nov. 4 election.

More than two weeks after Sarah Palin stormed out of Alaska and onto the presidential ticket, Kentucky Republicans think they've gotten the jolt they needed.

"Rocket fuel," Kentucky Republican Party Chairman Steve Robertson called Palin's effect on state GOP activists. "It was the big gust of wind that we needed."

And that, strategists say, could have a trickle-down effect for other Republican candidates on the ballot in Kentucky, starting with U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell and congressional candidates Brett Guthrie, who is running for the open 2nd Congressional District seat in west-central Kentucky, and potentially even Anne Northup, who is trying to win back the 3rd Congressional District seat she held until 2006.

"Our party was in a bit of a depression since the '06 election," said J. Scott Jennings, a Republican consultant and former deputy political director at the White House. But now "Kentucky Republicans are just plain excited that there's a conservative, energetic candidate in Governor Palin at the top of the ticket."

Republicans have measured the reinvigoration by the increased interest in McCain-Palin paraphernalia.

Kentucky Republican headquarters is about to receive an order of 10,000 McCain-Palin bumper stickers, 8,000 yard signs and 2,500 more bumper stickers that highlight Palin's name, which, based on inquiries, are expected to go quickly, said party spokeswoman Andi Johnson.

In Louisville, the Spalding Group, which runs the McCain Store merchandise, unveiled last week a line of Palin-themed shirts and buttons that scream "Sarah! Girl power," "Palin Power" and "Read my lipstick: Vote McCain-Palin."

"A lot of people are being drawn to her. It's no secret that with McCain, the base was not necessarily enthused," said Ted Jackson, Spalding Group's founder and president. "It's given a lot of people a way back to McCain."

Jackson, who also serves as campaign chairman for Northup's campaign in Louisville, said he hears from women who don't agree with Palin's stands against abortion and for teaching abstinence-only, but are saying they're still drawn to her personality.

Democrats, however, say this is a phase — part of the bump in excitement the GOP received after its national convention earlier this month.

"I think it's wishful thinking on their part that Palin is some kind of magic bullet," said Kentucky Democratic Party spokesman Thom Karmik.

But there's no doubt activists are responding. At the opening of the Fayette County Republican Party's volunteer headquarters Saturday afternoon, more than 100 GOP enthusiasts who crammed in to hear local candidates speak cheered the loudest at every mention of or reference to Palin.

McConnell, the GOP's U.S. Senate leader who is running for his fourth term, cautioned them, though, that "the ballgame is not over" and that they must sustain such excitement for seven more weeks.

"There is a tendency for these two conventions to give each side a bounce and then for things to settle down," he said. "This is not a time for dancing in the end zone."

House leadership race

Now that the campaign is afoot for the highest position in the state House between Democratic Speaker Jody Richards of Bowling Green and Rep. Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, the lobbying and jockeying has begun in earnest.

Both spent Friday morning chatting up their colleagues on the Agriculture Committee, which was meeting in Lexington.

And the voters in the race — the 98 other House lawmakers, specifically the more than 60 House Democrats — are conflicted not only over whom to pick but how to even characterize the race.

Some have said having the longest-serving House speaker in Kentucky history versus a veteran lawmaker who served as House Democratic floor leader for 18 years is like a clash between two incumbents.

Others describe the race as a choice between the status quo and the old way of doing things.

"If you've got an old worn out pair of pants and you want another pair of pants, would you want a brand new pair or another old pair? You'd want a new pair of pants wouldn't you?" Democratic Rep. Johnny Bell of Glasgow asked rhetorically. "Otherwise why change?"

Bell said he is backing Richards but is also supporting Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark for re-election. Clark aligned himself with Stumbo after Richards endorsed Clark's challenger for the post, Rep. Joni Jenkins of Shively.

Bell said his hope is that whoever wins the speaker's race does not exact retribution on the loser's supporters.

"It makes me nervous because you don't know what kind of adversity will come your way if you're on the wrong side of this," Bell said.

Rep. Jim Gooch, D-Providence, said that's why he expects the final vote to be lopsided, but he declined to say in whose favor.

"I do not think it will be that close," Gooch said. "A lot of people are sitting on the fence and once they see someone has the momentum, there will be an avalanche because nobody wants to be on the losing side."