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Beshear picks Abramson

FRANKFORT — Gov. Steve Beshear formally announced Monday that he will seek a second term. At press conferences in Frankfort and Louisville, Beshear introduced longtime Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson as his running mate.

The two will tour the state Tuesday and Wednesday with stops in Bowling Green, Paducah, Owensboro, Hazard, Hebron and Worthington.

Monday's announcement kicked off the 2011 race for governor and instantly created a buzz about the open race for Louisville mayor. Within hours of the Frankfort press conference, Greg Fischer, 51, a Louisville businessman who ran as a Democrat for the U.S. Senate, announced that he would run for Abramson's seat. Another Democrat, Louisville Metro Councilman Jim King, released a statement saying that he would make a decision about running in "coming weeks."

Many Republicans hope that former federal prosecutor and lieutenant governor Steve Pence enters the race. Pence did not return calls Monday seeking comment. Another possible Republican candidate is Kelly Downard, a councilman who challenged Abramson in 2006 and lost.

Beshear, who was elected in 2007, said Monday in Frankfort that it would take an additional term to accomplish what he set out to do. The governor has had to grapple with declining state revenues and manage the state's response to several natural disasters, including an ice storm that crippled much of the state in January and February.

"Our work is not finished," Beshear said. "I dream of more for our state and our people."

Abramson, 62, has spent more than 20 years as the mayor of the state's most populous city and has an impressive track record of attracting and retaining jobs, improving the city's parks system and reducing the size of government, Beshear said.

"Mayor Abramson is a proven leader," Beshear said.

Only 19 months into his first term, Beshear had to choose a running mate early because Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo announced earlier this year that he was going to run for U.S. Senate and would not be on the governor's ticket. In Kentucky, candidates cannot raise money until they announce their intention to run. Gatewood Galbraith, an independent and a Lexington lawyer, also has said that he intends to run for governor.

On Monday, Beshear touted his accomplishments over the past 19 months. They include passing an overhaul of the state's economic development tools, getting more children enrolled in the state's health care plans, and attracting a federal research laboratory to Kentucky.

Charlie Moore, chairman of the Kentucky Democratic Party, applauded Beshear's decision to add Abramson to the ticket, saying that his proven leadership skills were needed as the state struggles financially.

"The governor needs the best executive he can find," Moore said, adding that he doubts that a Democratic candidate will emerge to challenge Beshear in 2011.

But others have questioned whether Abramson could help Beshear pick up votes in far Eastern and Western Kentucky. Abramson's more liberal stances on some issues — notably gun control — might not resonate with rural voters, who tend to be more conservative.

Beshear dismissed the criticism Monday, saying that most people in Kentucky care more about where a candidate is going than where he is from.

"Jerry Abramson is a very mainstream Kentuckian," Beshear said. "This administration is not going to have any agenda about gun ownership at all." Beshear noted that gun control is a federal issue.

Abramson said he will finish the remaining 18 months left in his term as mayor. Abramson and Beshear have said they do not have a hand-picked Democratic successor in mind to replace Abramson and will back whoever the Democratic candidate is.

Abramson said that the city's dismal finances and other problems over the past 18 months — one of the toughest periods in his 20 years as mayor — had no bearing on his decision not to seek a sixth term as mayor of the Louisville Metro merged government. Abramson served three terms as mayor of the city of Louisville and is in his second term under the merged government.