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Governing Kentucky

The Bluegrass State’s other horse race.

May 16, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 33 • By JOHN DAVID DYCHE
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To say that being a basketball star is helpful in Kentucky politics is like saying Secretariat was a nice horse. The taciturn Farmer, who only recently abandoned a Haldeman-worthy crew cut and still sports a formidable Freddie Mercury-style mustache, is a proven vote-getter. Unfortunately for all concerned, however, Farmer’s wife has just filed for divorce, and hostile reporters are ramping up critical stories questioning his conduct and management in his current office.

Moffett, a political novice, had hoped to reprise the role of Rand Paul as Tea Party phenomenon. But Williams saw it coming, allowed not a sliver of light to pass between Paul and him during the former’s Senate crusade, and has defended his right flank effectively. Lacking name recognition, Moffett’s Internet “moneybombs” have been duds.

Holsclaw, a popular local politician in the state’s largest city, could have been a contender for a lesser position like secretary of state. Her meager fundraising—only $12,648 on hand in the most recent reports—suggests that the governorship is out of her league. One blogger derisively refers to Holsclaw as “Paula Deen,” playing on the candidate’s considerable resemblance to the culinary celebrity. 

Mistaken identity may be Hols-claw’s best hope, but some think the extremely low turnout predicted for the primary makes anything possible. The last two GOP primaries averaged 18.5 percent participation, and 15 percent of the state’s registered Republicans reside in Holsclaw’s home county. McConnell, who was chastened by his ineffective endorsement of Paul’s opponent last year and now has his hands full in Washington, has prudently returned to his preferred posture of primary neutrality.

Although Beshear has no primary, he is already spending some of his nearly $5 million campaign war chest on advertising. His running mate this time around is Jerry Abramson, who finally appears on a statewide ballot after serving five terms as Louisville mayor. Abramson’s principal purpose may be fundraising, but the verbose urban Jewish liberal may play poorly in rural Kentucky. He left multiple messes from his final mayoral term, but the same media that are putting a full-court press on Farmer will probably give Abramson a pass. 

Having apparently abandoned expanded gambling, which admitted casino patron Williams blocks on policy rather than moral grounds, Beshear touts his management of state finances through tough times and some economic development successes. Williams says the state is “adrift,” and in the recently completed legislative session offered a bold platform featuring immigration, neighborhood schools, state pensions, and tax reform. The two locked horns over how to fill a Medicaid shortfall, with Williams trying to turn his abrasiveness into an asset à la Chris Christie in New Jersey.

Williams wants Kentucky to participate in the movement for fiscal sanity that Republican reformers (and many reformed Republicans) are carrying to Washington and state capitals around the country. Beshear is the poster boy for business as usual, but will be favored over any GOP nominee. If that person is anyone other than Williams, the campaign will be over before it begins. If it is Williams, however, Kentucky could treat the nation to an entertaining and quite spirited political horse race come autumn.

John David Dyche is the author of Republican Leader: A Political Biography of Senator Mitch McConnell and writes a political column for the Louisville Courier-Journal.

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