FRANKFORT - Aside from polling, a key early measuring stick of a campaign can be money.
As U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell often points out, campaign donations can reveal the depth of support for a candidate. But a true picture of a campaign's strengths and weaknesses often requires going beyond the totals.
Here's a look at some trends, highlights and potential points of concern for each of the four major tickets in the race for governor, based on their campaign finance reports filed with the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance last week.
Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher and running mate Robbie Rudolph raised $592,775 in the fourth quarter of 2006, giving them a total of nearly $1.7 million raised since they formed their ticket in June.
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Good news: Fletcher doubled the number of small-dollar donations he received in the fourth quarter of 2006 (Oct. 1 through Dec. 31) from the third quarter. He received 1,105 donations under $100 that added up to $52,330 as opposed to 555 totaling $28,846 between July 1 and Sept. 30. Such contributions often come from rank-and-file voters.
Meanwhile, the campaign has spent very little. Fletcher still has about $1.5 million available to him. The campaign also garnered a total of $95,000 from four fund-raisers in Western Kentucky -- the home area of GOP rival Billy Harper. However, the Fletcher campaign brought in less than $25,000 at an event in Murray, Rudolph's hometown.
Bad news: The total money brought in last quarter was down from the more than $722,000 Fletcher raised in the third quarter of 2006.
As reporter Tom Loftus pointed out in Saturday's Courier-Journal, only 14 of 60 state Republican lawmakers have contributed to Fletcher so far. And only 14 of the 56 members of the state GOP's central committee have written the governor a check.
Fletcher brought in less from his first fund-raising events in Benton, Paducah, Murray and Ashland last quarter than he did in those cities during the 2003 general election -- a curious trend for an incumbent governor. However, he did raise more in Morehead this time and doubled his 2003 haul from Pikeville with a whopping $147,809 in late October.
Republicans Billy Harper and Dick Wilson have pumped $2.5 million into the campaign so far, most of it coming from Harper's personal fortune.
Good news: Harper's report did reveal a donation from at least one chief supporter of Fletcher's 2003 candidacy: John Williams, an executive with CSI Inc. of Paducah. Williams served as one of Fletcher's 14 "kitchen cabinet advisers" who met before the election to set up the transition team. He gave Harper $1,000 in November. Harper, who owns a concrete company, also collected $80,100 from others. It mostly was garnered at a fund-raiser at his own home in West Paducah.
Bad news: Nearly everyone who has contributed to Harper so far lives in far western Kentucky, not exactly a bastion of Republican voters. Harper's running mate, Wilson, also hails from Paducah, as do the four people who signed his official candidacy papers. So Harper still hasn't shown publicly how much statewide support he has.
He also has spent nearly everything he's raised and put in from his own checkbook. Most of that has gone for commercials, which he has been running since October. Still, donations and account balances are less important to Harper than most candidates because he can write six-figure checks to the campaign at any moment.
Democrats Steve Beshear and Daniel Mongiardo reported raising $219,019 in their first week of soliciting donations.
Good news: Their total kept pace with their Democratic rivals, the ticket of Jonathan Miller and Irv Maze. It also was more than double the amount that the 2003 Democratic slate of Ben Chandler and Charlie Owen -- the eventual nominees -- brought in during their first month of fund-raising.
Beshear, a former lieutenant governor, and Mongiardo, the state senator from Hazard, attracted a few big-name donors. Horse farm owner Tracy Farmer and his wife each gave $1,000, as did former Lexington Mayor Pam Miller and former Supreme Court Justice James Keller. Fontaine Banks, former chief of staff to Govs. Bert Combs and Ned Breathitt, gave $500.
Bad news: The first report doesn't show much diversity in donors (of course, it reflects only a week's worth of contributions). Of the 266 people who contributed, 134 work for Stites and Harbison, Beshear's law firm, or are their spouses. Their donations totaled about $60,000.
And both Beshear and Mongiardo wrote $25,000 checks to the campaign, meaning they raised just $169,000 from others, putting them behind their rivals.
Democrats Jonathan Miller and Irv Maze brought in $221,561 in their first two weeks of fund-raising.
Good news: Miller and Maze brought in $52,000 more and had 62 more donors than Beshear and Mongiardo (although Miller technically had an additional week).
Miller and Maze also garnered more than $60,000 through their campaign Web site, according to a statement. So far, they have shown the greatest ability to use the Internet to campaign in this race.
Bad news: Miller's report has fewer big-name Democrats than even Beshear's showed, suggesting that most party officials are holding back their checkbooks until the primary field is set.
And the first three campaign events Miller and Maze had -- in Crestview Hills, Louisville and their Lexington campaign headquarters -- didn't exactly break the bank, bringing in a total of about $20,000. Then again, those so-called "meet-up" events weren't billed as actual fund-raisers.
In addition to cracking up the state Chamber of Commerce dinner crowd with several jokes, Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, made his case against expanded gambling Thursday night.
He said it would be "terrible public policy" to approve casinos in Kentucky.
First, "most people who lose" money are those who need it most, he said. Second, Indiana has placed casinos near Kentucky to practice "predatory gaming" on Kentuckians. "If Indiana thinks gaming is so great, why don't they have a casino in Indianapolis?" he asked.
Finally, other states already have saturated the market with casinos.
"We've waited too long to make Kentucky a gambling destination," he said. "The bottom line is this: there's not going to be any gaming legislation in this session."
Fletcher, the final speaker at the chamber dinner, also coaxed some laughs to start his 20-minute remarks. The former doctor, lay minister, fighter pilot, engineer and congressman turned toward the screen behind him and pointed to two sponsors: The Herald-Leader and Careerbuilder.com. "I look forward to them building my career in the future," he said, prompting chuckles from the audience.