Op-Ed

Williams-Farmer more pipe dream than dream team

Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's Superman!

No, wait! Wrong superhero!

It's really the Bat-Signal beaming up from south Frankfort's Mitch McConnell Building, headquarters for the Republican Party of Kentucky. It's summoning the Dynamic Duo of David "Batman" Williams and Richie "Robin" Farmer to come to the party's rescue in the 2011 gubernatorial race.

All the buzz lately has elevated a ticket pairing the state Senate president and the state agriculture commissioner to the lofty position of a can't-miss GOP "Dream Team" that should leave Gov. Steve Beshear and Louisville Mayor-But-No-Longer-for-Life Jerry Abramson quaking in their boots so badly they concede defeat, like, yesterday.

(I referred to boots instead of shoes because I assume Beshear has introduced his new sidekick to the joys of riding to hounds.)

OK, all joking aside (almost all anyway), I'm not known as a curmudgeon because I go with the flow of the political winds. So, let me offer a few observations on the subject of "Dream Team or Pipe Dream?"

Certainly, Republicans ought to feel optimism about beating Beshear in '11. He's been a disappointment to many of his party's leaders, to the horse industry that helped elect him, to just about anyone who's paid attention to his detached approach to governing. The joke around the Capitol halls for much of his term has been that he is former Gov. Ernie Fletcher without an indictment, a caretaker governor who doesn't work well with the General Assembly and hasn't accomplished much of note.

In Beshear's defense, grand accomplishments tend to carry grand price tags that are beyond the reach of governors who preside over bankrupt states.

But whether he's been ineffective or simply distracted by all the belt-tightening and cutting he's had to oversee, Beshear ought to be vulnerable to challenges from within or outside his party in '11. However, six months out from the filing deadline, the horizon isn't filled with a rush of contenders eager to exploit his weaknesses. Which helps explain Republicans' wishful thinking about a Williams-Farmer ticket. They don't want to miss out on this opportunity.

Put Farmer at the top of that ticket, and Republicans might be in business. Public Policy Polling, considered a Democratic-leaning organization, reported last week that its latest survey of Kentucky voters found Beshear trailing the one-time member of the University of Kentucky Wildcats' "Unforgettables" basketball team 40 percent to 39 percent.

Even Secretary of State Trey Grayson, who lost badly to Rand Paul in the Republican U.S. Senate primary, would give the incumbent governor a good test. He trailed Beshear 41-38 in the PPP survey. But I don't think Grayson wants to embark on another grueling campaign so soon after the last one.

A ticket headed by Williams would be more problematic for Republicans. He wasn't included in the latest PPP survey. But the last polling I can find on him, another PPP effort from 2009, put his favorable rating at 28 percent, right down there with outgoing U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning. It's doubtful Williams' leading role in this year's General Assembly budget fiasco improved those numbers.

By contrast, President Barack Obama, who got trounced twice in Kentucky in 2008, has a 37-percent approval rating among Kentuckians in a recent PPP poll.

Best I can tell, a Williams-Farmer ticket has no upside for Farmer. And I can't conceive of Williams ever agreeing to be No. 2 on a slate with Farmer or anyone else. Plus, there's a potential downside in any run for governor by Williams.

PPP's numbers suggest Farmer would be better off leading the '11 ticket than playing second fiddle to one of the state's least popular politicians and one who is not prone to sharing power with anyone. If Farmer doesn't want to challenge an incumbent who already has more than $2 million in the campaign bank, he could run for secretary of state as a prohibitive favorite and take another look at the governor's race in 2015.

Williams' numbers indicate he would be a long shot in any gubernatorial campaign, and losing such a race could leave him afflicted with the Jody Richards Syndrome.

Richards' two losing runs for the Governor's office left him politically weakened in the eyes of many, emboldened his critics in the House Democratic caucus and ultimately cost him his position as the chamber's speaker.

Williams already faces a challenge from Sen. Julie Denton for the Senate president's office in the 2011 organizational session. He should survive that contest, but it's a sign of unrest in the Republican caucus that could grow louder should he be weakened by a losing gubernatorial campaign.

All things considered, I'll be surprised if the "Dream Team" doesn't turn out to be a "Pipe Dream." And the word I got near week's end suggests it's already headed in that direction. So, Batman and Robin might not be answering the Bat-Signal — at least not together.

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