Monday, October 11, 1999

Unusual cast in governor's race

But electorate isn't interested

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — Kentucky voters have never seen a governor's race like the one they're seeing this year:

        • For the first time in modern state history, a sitting governor is running for a consecutive term.

        • The Republican candidate is being snubbed by the state's top Republican and much of the party faithful.

        • A Reform Party candidate is trying to catch the wave of populist rejection of the political status quo.

        • A write-in candidate named Hoby had $9.24 in campaign funds at the end of August and won't get the vote of his former running mate.

        Despite this eclectic/odd field of candidates, voters mostly couldn't care less, even though Election Day is less than a month away.

        “There's not been a race like this for governor, at least not in my lifetime,” said Dr. Floyd Poore, a Grant County physician who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination in the 1991 gubernatorial race.

        “There are a lot of different personalities and people in the race, including an incumbent governor. But you're just not

        hearing much about the race. There are no campaign signs around, no real political activity. I think that reflects the tenor of who is running against the governor,” Dr. Poore said.

        For the first time this century, and thanks to a change voters made to the state Constitution six years ago, Gov. Paul Patton — a Pikeville Democrat elected by a thin margin four years ago — can run for re-election.

        Political watchers, experts and elected officials say the difficult chore of knocking off an incumbent, coupled with a state campaign finance law that caps spending in the governor's race at about $2 million, is making for an unusual gubernatorial election.

        “It's very hard to beat an incumbent, and it's also hard to beat a Democratic incumbent whose views a lot of Republicans agree with, especially on economic issues,” said University of Kentucky political science professor Dr. Penny Miller, who has followed state politics for three decades.

        “Because of the nature of the race it has brought out a lot of personalities we don't usually see,” Dr. Miller said.

        The candidates in the governor's race are:

        • Mr. Patton. No other candidate is even in the same ballpark when it comes to money, name recognition, campaign organization, political skills and sheer energy. He has effectively used the bully pulpit and other circumstances — spending limits and gubernatorial succession — to scare away any major challengers.

        Lt. Gov. Steve Henry, a Louisville surgeon, is Mr. Patton's running mate.

        • Republican Peppy Martin. The Hart County publicist is running a Spartan campaign short on specifics, money and credibility. Ms. Martin has basically no campaign organization or staff and only recently picked up some endorsements from GOP officials, including U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning of Southgate.

        But she's also made some well-publicized and embarrassing gaffes, including calling U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell's marriage to Chinese-American Elaine Chao his “Chinese connection.”

        Mr. McConnell, the titular head of the Kentucky GOP, is so angry he won't even take questions about the race and left the stage when Ms. Martin delivered her speech at the Fancy Farm political picnic in August.

        Her lieutenant-governor running mate is Wanda Cornelius of Taylor County.

        • Reformer Gatewood Galbraith. The Lexington lawyer and former Democrat is back for another run for governor, trying to top the 5 percent he received in 1991. He's now playing down his platform to legalize marijuana and touting his affiliation with Jesse “The Body” Ventura, the Reform Party of Minnesota governor and former pro wrestler.

        Mr. Galbraith is sounding the same rebellious tone as Mr. Ventura and other Reformers in trying to woo voters away from the traditional policies and personalities of the Democratic and Republican parties.

        But his campaign hasn't seemed to catch on, despite Reform Party successes in other places.

        Dr. Miller says that's partly because Mr. Galbraith's act is growing old, particularly with the media.

        “Gatewood has become the media darling like he has in the past,” she said. “That shows there is just such a lack of interest in this race.”

        Kathy Lyons, a western Kentucky farmer, is running for lieutenant governor on the Reform Party ticket.

        • Hobert “Hoby” Anderson. The Greenup County lawmaker, a Republican, is attempting to run as a write-in candidate.

        Mr. Anderson's campaign received a blow last month when his lieutenant governor running mate — Democrat Lewis “Ace” Burke — not only dropped out of the race but said he would probably vote for Mr. Patton or Mr. Galbraith instead of Mr. Anderson.

        Mr. Anderson is still looking for another running mate. He reported less than $10 in his September campaign finance report.

        • Nailah Jumoke-Yarbrough. The Louisville resident is running on the Natural Law Party ticket with John Flodstrom. Neither is campaigning.

        Dr. Poore said he can't remember ever seeing so many “fringe” candidates in a governor's race.

        “You always have some colorful candidates in Kentucky politics,” he said. “They've really seem to come out this year. But people on the fringes have their opinions, so we'll see how they do.”

        Mr. McConnell said the reason Mr. Patton didn't draw a tougher challenge is because of the campaign finance law passed by the Democratic-controlled General Assembly in 1992.

        He calls it a “Democratic incumbent protection law” because it limits spending in governor's races to about $2 million for candidates who agree to take about $600,000 in tax money. “Republicans are still outnumbered 2-1 in Kentucky,” Mr. McConnell said, adding that the media and organized labor support Democrats in most statewide races.

        “What this jury-rigged system guarantees is that the system is slanted in favor of the Democrats,” he said. “For a Republican to be competitive in Kentucky (takes) a minimum of $4.5 million to $5 million.

        “And you see it in this year's race. Patton has done a decent job but he's not that popular ... but because of the spending limits this race has been a no-show” for the Republicans.

        Democrats contend Mr. Patton has done a good job and neither the GOP nor any other candidate could beat him.

        Without a hotly contested governor's race and few local elections, many voters are expected to stay home on Nov. 2.

        Kenton County Clerk Bill Aylor said turnout “might hit 20 percent.”

        “There are no candidates out there campaigning and telling people there is an election,” Mr. Aylor said. “So I expect Election Day to be pretty quiet with a real light turnout.”


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