FRANKFORT - It took a while, but Democrat Steve Henry kept his word and is in this governor's race.
Although Henry downplayed the role that having to find a running mate played in his delayed announcement, some Democrats have said the unusually slow start to this governor's race for Henry and most of the rest of the field has to do with that requirement of having to form a slate.
Prospective candidates couldn't raise or spend any campaign cash until they found a running mate and filed with the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance.
That made it difficult for them to commission a poll to show off their viability to potential lieutenant governor candidates or pay for trips to build up support networks or even trek across the state to find a slate-mate.
So all this may help Secretary of State Trey Grayson make his case for a bill that would allow each party's nominee for governor to name a running mate after the primary election.
"I think it has strengthened the argument for it," said Grayson, a Republican.
Under that system, each candidate would run solo and the lieutenant governor candidate would be selected and nominated at a party convention after the primary -- just like the presidential election process.
Grayson said he's still looking for someone to sponsor the bill in the General Assembly next month. Democratic Rep. Tommy Thompson of Owensboro -- who was running mate with former Secretary of State Bob Babbage in the 1995 Democratic primary -- introduced it last year but hasn't committed yet to push it during this session.
Kathy Groob, a Democratic activist in Northern Kentucky, said she likes Grayson's proposal because it opens new opportunities for surprise candidates.
"There could be a strong No. 2 who comes out and runs strong in the primary," she said. "I think we'd have a stronger team."
The current running mate requirement is left over from the 1992 election reforms that created gubernatorial slates.
But at that time, someone considering running for governor could create an exploratory committee by him or herself and raise money to cover costs of polls and travel. The legislature killed exploratory committees in 2005, making this the first election run under these conditions.
Henry, a former lieutenant governor under Paul Patton, insists he didn't struggle to find a running mate -- he just conducted a deliberately thorough search.
Still, he said last June that he'd announce his candidacy and begin running in August; then the start date was bumped to before the Nov. 7 election, then before Dec. 1, then before Jan. 1.
He finally launched his campaign with Renee True, the Fayette County property valuation administrator, last Tuesday.
He said that despite the buzz in political circles, he seriously considered just two potential running mates: True and state Sen. Joey Pendleton of Hopkinsville, who said last fall that he declined Henry's invitation.
Pendleton said he would oppose Grayson's running-mate measure.
"I kind of like to know who the whole team is going to be from the start to the finish," he said.
Dinner of rivals
In preparation for Saturday's state Republican Party Lincoln Day Dinner, the three GOP candidates for governor are recruiting supporters to fill up the Louisville International Convention Center.
The annual dinner, named for Kentucky-born Republican President Abraham Lincoln, is typically a major fund-raiser for the party featuring big-name speakers that often talk about GOP unity.
So it is under that premise that the Republican candidates for governor are eagerly drumming up support so as to divide up the crowd by Gov. Ernie Fletcher's troops, Paducah businessman Billy Harper's people and former U.S. Rep. Anne Northup's backers. Northup, who represented Louisville for 10 years in Congress, has home-field advantage and is shooting for 500 of her supporters to show up, according to a letter she's distributing.
"I am hoping you will not only attend this event, but agree to put together a table of ten Northup supporters," the letter dated Jan. 23 says. "A strong showing of 500 supporters will help us demonstrate our strength right from the start."
The campaign managers for Harper and Fletcher said they, too, are making calls encouraging loyalists to attend as well -- but aren't setting any goals.
"Our supporters will be out," said Stan Pulliam, Harper's campaign manager.
"But I certainly don't think the amount of support you're able to have sign up for a $750 table gives any true indication of the direction your candidacy is going."
Marty Ryall, the governor's campaign chief, said Fletcher's top supporters are making calls to others but "there is no orchestrated effort" to get people to attend.
"It's in her back yard in Louisville, so it's easy for her to drum up support," Ryall said of Northup.
Said Pulliam: "I do think that if you promise to have 500 supporters, you better have 500 supporters."
Saturday's Lincoln Day dinner will begin at 7 p.m. Tickets bought this week will cost $100. The keynote speaker is GOP presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Better not wait
Tuesday is the long-awaited filing deadline for candidates to run in this spring's Republican and Democratic primary races. And candidates might not want to wait until the last minute because even a blizzard won't push the deadline back.
In the winter of 1994, when heavy snow closed state offices for a week, elections director Mary Sue Helm commuted to the secretary of state's office with the National Guard in case candidates needed to get in to file.
"I'm not aware of any extension of the candidate filing deadline unless it would be ordered by a court," she said.