Sunday, May 02, 1999

Of pols and stalls: Derby democracy


Race a chance to make contacts

BY PATRICK CROWLEY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LOUISVILLE — Vice President Al Gore handicapped the big race during Saturday's Kentucky Derby, but his prediction had nothing to do with horses.

        “I love it, and I'm coming back after I win” the 2000 presidential race, Gore said as he moved through the crowd of movers and shakers at Churchill Downs' fabled Millionaires' Row, a three-level skybox where the rich, powerful and connected watch the races.

        “I've never been here before, but I'm having a great time,” the vice president said in a quick interview before he and his wife, Tipper, joined a crowd of corporate leaders and Democratic well-wishers on a balcony reserved for Gov. Paul Patton and first lady Judi Patton.

        The Derby is a place for politicians on the state and national scenes to make an appearance, chat with reporters and party with their supporters.

        “It's a place where the politicians can come and have a good time,” said former state Democratic Party Chairman Terry McBrayer, a Lexington lawyer and lobbyist. “There's no real pressure on a day like this, no real partisan politics. Just a chance to kick back and have some fun.”

        U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning, a Southgate Republican, seemed to be enjoying himself as he gave University of Kentucky football coach Hal Mumme some betting tips.

        Asked if he cashed any tickets, Bunning said, “Not yet,” after placing a bet on the sixth race of the day.

        U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Louisville, said he enjoys the Derby but he also works the crowd on Millionaires' Row.

        McConnell even said Gore is smart for coming to the Derby.

        “It's a great place to come and meet people,” he said. “There's a good part of corporate America on these three floors. A politician can make some great fund-raising contacts on Derby day.”

        Tipper Gore, who arrived at the track before her husband, spent about an hour on Churchill's backside, where the stables are located. She shook hands, campaigned for her husband, ate some filet mignon wrapped in bacon that some horse owners had prepared on a grill and wore a pink hat one woman gave her.

        “I had a wonderful time,” she said. “That's a part of the Derby everybody should see.”

        The politicians also enjoy ribbing one another.

        Kentucky GOP vice-chairman Damon Thayer was introduced Saturday to Kentucky House Speaker Jody Richards, a Democrat from Louisville.

        “Tell the vice president I hope he enjoys his retirement,” Thayer quipped.

       



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