Wednesday, July 04, 2001

Democrat backing senator from GOP

McConnell best for Ky., Babbage says

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HEBRON — Kentucky U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, one of the Republican Party's leading strategists and a fierce partisan seeking re-election next year, has picked up the backing of the former head of the state Democratic Party.

        Lexington Democrat Bob Babbage, who in addition to leading the state party also served terms as the state's auditor and secretary of state, announced Tuesday he is heading the Democrats for McConnell committee.

        The announcement was made jointly by Mr. Babbage and Mr. McConnell during a brief press conference at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.

        “Sometimes party loyalty asks too much,” Mr. Babbage said. “This is one of those times. Kentucky cannot afford to lose the seniority, respect and clout of Sen. McConnell.”

        Mr. McConnell, a Louisville Republican, is seeking a third term next year against Democrat Lois Combs Weinberg of Hindman in eastern Kentucky. She is the daughter of former Gov. Bert Combs and while active in education and civic causes, she has never held elected office.

        “If you are going to win in Kentucky as a Republican you need the support of a lot of Democrats,” Mr. McConnell said.

        Mrs. Weinberg suggested that Mr. McConnell wanted to showcase support from a leading Democrat because she is receiving campaign contributions from Republicans. She said the campaign finance report that will be released in two weeks will show she has raised more than $500,000.

        “People that jump ship cannot be trusted,” Mrs. Weinberg said Tuesday from her Lexington campaign office. “If Bob Babbage has changed his personal and political philosophy to support Mitch McConnell, he might as well become a Republican.”

        Democratic Party Chairwoman Nicki Patton — Gov. Paul Patton's daughter — said Mr. Babbage, who now works as a government lobbyist, is supporting Mr. McConnell for personal reasons.

        “His decision is not based on issues or party philosophy,” Ms. Patton said. “This is about personal gain and a personal agenda.”

        Mr. Babbage, 49, served as Kentucky state auditor from 1987 to 1991 and secretary of state from 1991 to 1995. He ran unsuccessfully in the 1995 gubernatorial primary and briefly served as head of the Kentucky Democratic Party after the election.

        Mr. McConnell is the titular head of the Kentucky Republican Party. He has helped Republicans win election to Congress and the Kentucky statehouse, raised more than $80 million for Senate Republican candidates between 1996 and 2000 as head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee and served as a close political adviser to the presidential campaign of George W. Bush.

        After the election, Mr. Bush appointed Mr. McConnell's wife, Elaine Chao, to his cabinet as secretary of labor.

        Mr. Babbage compared backing Mr. McConnell to drinking bourbon.

        “Some would say that the first sip of bourbon is a little tough,” Mr. Babbage said. “But the acquired taste is a thing of special nature. So I come to an acquired taste.

        “I wasn't an original McConnell supporter but I think at this time in our history, it's absolutely the right thing for Kentucky,” Mr. Babbage said.


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