Sunday, August 26, 2001

Democrats chew politics at Ky. picnic

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COLD SPRING - Campbell County Democrats, their once-dominant political status eroded in recent years by Republican victories, basked Saturday evening in attention from some of the party's top leaders and candidates.

        Three of the top contenders for the Democrats' 2003 gubernatorial nomination — Attorney General Ben Chandler, Lt. Gov. Steve Henry and Kentucky House Speaker Jody Richards - were among the key Democrats attending the eighth annual Guidugli Family Picnic in Cold Spring.

[photo] Kentucky Gov. Paul Patton (left) assembles a wood puzzle made by Don McMillian (right) of Walton.
(Brandi Stafford photos)
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        Also in the crowd were Gov. Paul Patton, U.S. Rep. Ken Lucas of Boone County and U.S. Senate candidate Lois Combs Weinberg, who is challenging three-term Republican Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell in next year's election.

        “There are good, strong Democrats in Campbell County and plenty of them are out here tonight,” said Mr. Richards, a Bowling Green Democrat who was attending his third political function of the day. Earlier he has been at events in his hometown and in Lexington.

        “They must be important or we all wouldn't be here tonight,” Mr. Richards said of himself and his fellow politicians.

        Dave Guidugli, who hosts the picnic at his Darlas Drive home each August, said that by turning out for the picnic the candidates show their interest in Northern Kentucky and in what the county's Democrats have to say.

        “They really are interested in what is going on,” said Mr. Guidugli, a member of the county's Democratic executive committee.

        “I still don't consider this Republican territory,” he said. “This is a conservative area, and a conservative Democrat can do just as well as a conservative Republican.”

        The picnic has become a staple of the statewide Democratic political circuit, an event started as a family gathering as well as a way for the Guiduglis to introduce Mr. Patton to their friends when he was lieutenant governor eight years ago.

[photo] Lt. Gov. Steve Henry, wife Heather and baby Harper Renee at the picnic.
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        “The Guiduglis have a lot of friends and family, and if you want to meet a lot of them and a lot of people from Campbell County you want to be here,” said Mr. Patton, who is pondering a 2004 run against Republican U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning, a Campbell County native and resident.

        During a brief interview, Mr. Patton discussed plans for a $30 million arena at Northern Kentucky University in Highland Heights.

        Supporters of the project plan to lobby for funding when the General Assembly convenes in January, but the slowing economy has made for a tight budget in Frankfort.

        “I believe we must continue to invest in the infrastructure of Kentucky,” said Mr. Patton, elected in 1999 to a second term. “Now it's going to be more difficult than it has been in the past. We're just going to have to look at the reality of the state's financial situation in December.”

        As in Northern Kentucky's other counties, Democrats in Campbell County have seen their clout decline over the last decade as Republicans have gained strength, members and elected offices. The GOP now holds the county offices of judge-executive, coroner and three of the four Campbell County seats in the Kentucky General Assembly.

        But those GOP gains are less that what Republicans have done in Boone and Kenton counties, where the GOP controls both courthouses and the majority of the legislative seats.

        “I think this picnic shows the Democrats know there is a primary, and there are certainly votes up here in the primary even after the general elections haven't been too kind to statewide Democrats,” said Terry Mann, Campbell County Democratic Party chairman.

        “But this county has still shown a willingness to vote for Democrats,” he said. “Most of our county officials are still Democrats ... and the right Democratic gubernatorial candidate can and will carry Campbell County.”

        A handful of Republicans typically attend and take the good-natured ribbing from the heavily Democratic crowd.

        “I'm getting out of here,” Kenton County Commonwealth Attorney Bill Crockett, a Republican, joked when a thunderstorm blew up. “If lighting strikes, I know who it's hitting in this crowd.”

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