Republican candidate for governor Anne Northup yesterday took subtle shots at Gov. Ernie Fletcher's political abilities, while the governor secured more support for his re-election bid from local officials.
Meanwhile, the third GOP candidate in the race, Billy Harper -- a Paducah construction company owner and drag racing driver -- hit the road in his plush campaign bus outfitted with a flat-screen TV and sporting a portrait of a dragster meant to advertise that he's different from "career politicians."
The flurry of activity served as a harbinger of the hectic campaign season to come.
All three GOP candidates will address more than 1,500 Kentuckians tonight in Louisville at the party's state Lincoln Day Dinner, where presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney will be the keynote speaker. Romney yesterday secured key endorsements from Kentucky Congressmen Hal Rogers of Somerset, Ron Lewis of Cecilia and Ed Whitfield of Hopkinsville.
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But the governor's race is expected to be the main event tonight.
And if Northup's comments in her Kentucky Newsmakers interview with WKYT-TV's Bill Bryant was any indication, she will continue to hammer on Fletcher's political troubles, which she says makes him "unelectable." Northup, who lost her bid for a sixth term in Congress last fall, said renominating a politically weak governor would put other Republican candidates for office in jeopardy against the Democrats in the November general election.
"Everybody down the ballot will lose. Then we'll get what Democrats want: more programs, more taxes and more government regulations," she told Bryant on the show, which airs today at 11 a.m. on Channel 27.
During her response to a question about so-called right-to-work legislation, Northup brought her answer back to one of Fletcher's political fumbles.
Northup said she had previously favored such a proposal, which bars unions from requiring workers to become members. But she said state and business leaders first must thoroughly discuss options, such as whether only new companies would be affected.
She said it was counterproductive for Fletcher to raise the issue in his State of the Commonwealth Address last year without laying necessary political groundwork.
"It's not the way to throw it out there in the State of the (Commonwealth speech) and put all these legislators on the spot, especially if there's not the groundswell of support that it needs to have," she said.
Eight judge-executives back governor
Fletcher has been using the advantages of incumbency recently to drum up endorsements of local officials.
Eight Republican county judge-executives from Eastern Kentucky yesterday joined a growing list of county leaders and 15 state senators who have publicly backed Fletcher.
"We stand united in endorsing the re-election campaign of Gov. Ernie Fletcher, who kept his word to invest tax dollars where they had the greatest potential to create real economic opportunities for the people of Kentucky," said a letter signed by the eight top county officials from Estill, Bell, Fleming, Johnson, Lee, Morgan, Knox and Knott counties.
Estill Judge-Executive Wallace Taylor said in an interview that the Fletcher campaign didn't ask the judges to sign.
"This came about simply because we think Gov. Fletcher has been extremely good for our counties," said Taylor, who added that he approached the other judge-executives.
Taylor echoed Fletcher's campaign mantra that "Once the governor gets his message out, people will want to continue all the progress he has made."
Harper, meanwhile, used Groundhog Day to ask whether Kentuckians will "stick their heads out and do something totally different or are they going to go back in the hole?"
If a "career politician" is voted in, "it's going to be business as usual the next four years," he added.
Harper has advocated educational reforms and repeal of a tax on small businesses.
For more details about these developments and more political news, see the Herald-Leader's political blog, Pol Watchers, on www.kentucky.com.