Politics & Government

Newest entrants carrying baggage

FRANKFORT -- The sudden partnering of Bruce Lunsford and Greg Stumbo as running mates in the governor's race has sparked a buzz among Democrats about the political baggage both bring as well as the personal fortune Lunsford can sink into the campaign.

Lunsford, a Louisville businessman, acknowledged yesterday that he must smooth over leftover frustration from his 2003 candidacy. He spent $8 million of his own money on ads before dropping out of the race four days before the Democratic primary.

"I'll pay back the Democrats for what I did," Lunsford told reporters after his official announcement yesterday.

In addition to pledging that he'll personally bankroll the campaign --starting with a $2 million downpayment -- Lunsford promised he wouldn't run negative ads against his primary opponents.

"It ain't gonna happen this time," he said.

He said he wanted a fresh start bringing strong leadership to state government with Stumbo, the attorney general. Lunsford reached out to Stumbo after learning that Stumbo was unlikely to run for governor himself.

The two have known each other since 1980, when Stumbo was first elected to the legislature and Lunsford was a young Commerce Cabinet secretary under former Gov. John Y. Brown Jr.

"It didn't take us very long to realize that the chemistry from 1980 was still there," Stumbo said.

Lunsford conceded that he erred by endorsing Republican Ernie Fletcher over Democrat Ben Chandler in the 2003 general election.

"You know, 125,000 Democrats voted for Gov. Fletcher," Lunsford said. "I'm sure there are people as disenfranchised as I am.

"He promised me he would clean up the mess in Frankfort. He didn't. We will," Lunsford added.

Hard feelings from '03

At least one of Lunsford's primary opponents already has gone on the offensive against him for the way the 2003 race turned out.

"That's when Bruce Lunsford said he wouldn't go negative and would support the Democratic nominee for governor," said state Treasurer Jonathan Miller. "Turns out he went negative and supported the Republican nominee. I hope he keeps his promise this year."

Miller also said he's not afraid of Lunsford's money.

"He spent millions in 2003 but that didn't make a difference," Miller said.

Chandler declined comment.

Lunsford, who founded the nursing home company Vencor, said he also backed Fletcher because he still was smarting over primary ads that Chandler's campaign ran against him. One in particular featured a woman who said her mother "was abused in a Bruce Lunsford nursing home" -- an issue that may also haunt his '07 candidacy.

"I'm a little more prepared for this sort of thing. And I think the two of us together are a fine team," Lunsford said, referring to Stumbo. "I've got someone here who can help me through those."

Stumbo brings his own political issues to the ticket.

While married to his first wife, he had an affair in 1987 with college friend Travis Fritsch, who gave birth to a son in 1988. Stumbo has said he has made support payments since 2002, when a DNA test confirmed he is the father.

Stumbo was charged with drunken driving after a 1991 Christmas party, but the charge was reduced after a Floyd County road foreman said he was driving Stumbo's vehicle when it wrecked.

And Stumbo said he plans to fight an Executive Branch Ethics Commission opinion that said he shouldn't run in the governor's race after his office was involved in the prosecution of Fletcher -- a potential rival in the fall campaign -- during the state hiring investigation.

Crowded field

The emergence of the Lunsford-Stumbo ticket adds yet another dynamic into the crowded field that contains several prominent current and former officials but no bona fide favorite. It's becoming dizzying for some Democrats.

"Right now they're still in shock over the number of candidates," said Gross Lindsay, a former Democratic state representative from Henderson. He said it will take about a month to see how the contenders jockey for position.

Most of Lunsford's opponents appeared unfazed by their newest rivals.

House Speaker Jody Richards said he's not intimidated by Lunsford's fortune. "You have to have a certain amount of money to win these races. But I'd rather have my organization and friends than the tact he's using," he said.

Lexington attorney Gatewood Galbraith said Lunsford and Stumbo "are the face of everything wrong with the Democratic Party in Kentucky. The state has suffered under Democrats such as them."

"I don't think Mr. Lunsford and Mr. Stumbo can buy enough votes to win this election," he added.

Former Lt. Gov. Steve Henry said "the judgment of that ticket will be up to the people."

"Whether another candidate can come in and create a vision for themselves or a record the people will accept, I don't know," he said.

Jim Cauley, campaign manager for former Lt. Gov. Steve Beshear said only "Welcome to the race," adding that Beshear is focused on his strategy.