FRANKFORT -- Gov. Ernie Fletcher took the leap yesterday, officially filing his papers and the required $500 to seek re-election next year.
Fletcher, who became Kentucky's first Republican governor in 32 years after a 10-percentage-point win in 2003, waited nearly three weeks from the start of the filing period to turn his campaign papers in to the secretary of state's office.
Turning in those papers moved the spotlight of the governor's race back onto the Republican incumbent, at least temporarily, and away from the Democrats, who continue to jockey and talk among themselves about potential candidates. So far, that party has failed to offer any names other than Harlan County resident Otis Hensley, who ran a limited campaign four years ago.
Fletcher, on the other hand, has amassed more than $1 million in campaign funds. He has brought back California-based TV producer Fred Davis to handle his media and pollster Dave Sackett of the Tarrance Group to help with strategy.
Robbie Rudolph, Fletcher's running mate, said last week that the campaign wouldn't discuss results of a recent poll.
Rudolph said yesterday that he is proud of the administration's accomplishments, such as expanding broadband Internet coverage into rural areas and restructuring the state's cumbersome and expensive Medicaid program to help save money without drastically cutting service.
"I look forward to working with him next year and four more years," Rudolph said yesterday of Fletcher.
But Fletcher has struggled politically, especially with the state hiring investigation that led to three misdemeanor charges against him that were later dropped in a deal with prosecutors. His approval ratings have remained in the 30-percent range.
Yesterday afternoon, one of Fletcher's aides, Tymanda Slone, walked the re-election forms down the Capitol hallway from the governor's suite of offices at 4:30, just before the secretary of state's office closed.
The papers require four witnesses to sign on the candidates' behalf. Fletcher and Rudolph, the governor's executive cabinet secretary, got the signatures from four administration aides: Slone; the governor's mansion executive director, Kenneth Bishop; Fletcher's chief of staff, Stan Cave; and first lady Glenna Fletcher's chief of staff, Cherrilee Moore.
Meanwhile, big-name Democrats continue to meet and toss around names as potential candidates.
Most party officials now don't expect U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler of Versailles or former Gov. Brereton Jones to enter the race.
Chandler's spokeswoman Jennifer Spalding said yesterday that Chandler would have an announcement "shortly."
The lack of candidates heading into December has continued to cause consternation within the party. In past elections, potential candidates could formally test the waters through exploratory committees, which allowed them to raise money to run polls and pay for trips across the state.
"We are making a mistake by not getting a candidate in the field," said Democratic campaign consultant Kim Geveden.
He said he and many Democrats had hoped Chandler, who is politically more powerful now than in 2003 when he lost to Fletcher, would run and try to avenge that 10-point loss.
"Ben could wait until January and then win, but if he doesn't get in, we'll really be hurt, or it would default to the wealthiest candidate," Geveden said. "If Ben is not going to run, and it appears that he's not going to ... there's no better time for someone to jump in."
Geveden said the longer Democrats wait the more it favors candidates who can pump their own money into the campaign. Several such millionaires are emerging as possible candidates, including Louisville businessman Charlie Owen, who ran with Chandler in 2003; Ron Geary, a former revenue cabinet secretary under former Gov. John Y. Brown Jr. and chairman of the nursing home company ResCare; and Bruce Lunsford, who sank $8 million of his own money into the 2003 Democratic primary before dropping out.
Both Geary and Lunsford have ties to the racing industry, with Geary running the Ellis Park racetrack in Henderson and Lunsford owning prominent racehorses. Neither returned calls yesterday.
State Sen. Ed Worley of Richmond, who is being mentioned as a possible running mate on several tickets, said people thinking about running should act soon.
"I think it's time for the Democrats to stop waiting on anyone. If you have the ability to run statewide, then announce," he said. "We're going to kill ourselves just standing around."
Another Democrat who continues to weigh his options is Jack Conway, a Louisville attorney who failed in 2002 to unseat Republican U.S. Rep. Anne Northup.
"I'm still looking at the race, gauging whether or not I can go from a base of support in Louisville to getting the statewide recognition I need and whether or not I can run the type of candidacy that can energize the party," he said, adding that he hopes to decide in the next two weeks. "I think it would be a different type of candidacy. I think it would be exciting. I just have to assess my chances of being successful."
Other Democrats considering a run include Attorney General Greg Stumbo, state Treasurer Jonathan Miller, former Lt. Gov. Steve Henry, state Sen. Daniel Mongiardo of Hazard, state Sen. David Boswell of Owensboro and Lexington attorney Gatewood Galbraith.