Sunday, June 02, 2002

Primary too close for GOP comfort




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        Kenton County Republicans were whooping it up Tuesday night as primary results rolled in. They should have been breathing sighs of relief ... and watching their backs.

        Are party leaders, as they professed, really excited about Commissioner Adam Koenig's limp win over challenger Michael Plummer?

        Yes, Mr. Plummer — a maverick Republican not close to the party's Executive Committee establishment — did outspend Mr. Koenig in the race. And he snagged the endorsement of Northern Kentucky Right to Life, which while not the boost it once was — what will all that nastiness over birth control pills causing abortions and such — can still attract votes in a GOP primary.

        Still, Mr. Koenig could only muster a 452-vote win despite being the incumbent and having the full backing of most members of the Kenton County Republican Executive Committee, which used to have some political ethics by staying out of most primaries.

        Those days are gone. And so is any hope for unity in the GOP as a tough election season looms.

        Eric Deters was also targeted by the party in the Kenton County Attorney's race, which he lost big to incumbent Garry Edmondson.

        Mr. Edmondson is not exactly Abe Lincoln when it comes to GOP credentials. He has been a Republican less than two years. And he, like a lot of other former Dems, jumped on the GOP bandwagon when the Republicans started putting up wins in Kenton County.

        But the executive committee still went after Mr. Deters and Mr. Plummer as if they were Democrats, protecting the incumbents during the primary season.

        Nasty letters and e-mails were written by executive committee members. Kenton County Judge-executive Dick Murgatroyd, a Republican up for re-election in the fall, campaigned for Mr. Koenig, even making phone calls for him in the final days before last Tuesday's election.

        Even with that backroom help, Mr. Koenig hardly posted a mandate.

        Hard-core Republicans vote in primaries. And while 2,667 of the faithful GOP did vote for Mr. Koenig, 2,215 did not. They went with
Mr. Plummer.

        And if Mr. Koenig and the rest of the Kenton County GOP establishment doesn't believe those Plummer votes were protests over the direction and record of the fiscal court, then can I interest you in a nice Erpenbeck home?

        Democrats had this one pegged all along. If Mr. Koenig is weak on primary day, then a good portion of the GOP base is unhappy with the fiscal court. After all, the issues are there — higher taxes, no county jail, what looks like a bad use of taxpayers money in buying the 501 Main Street building in Covington.

        No other member of the fiscal court — which also includes Mr. Murgatroyd and commissioners Barb Black and Dan Humpert — had a primary. So Mr. Koenig was the chance for Republican voters to either give a vote of confidence to the incumbents or a stern warning.

        There are more signs of trouble. Other Republican county office holders are having problems with some of the moves made by the administration and the executive committee, namely Jailer Terry Carl, Sheriff Chuck Korzenborn and Commissioner Black.

        A party needs unity as it heads into a general election. But there are more splinters in the Kenton GOP than in an old tobacco barn.

        Now, the Dems aren't going to march into the courthouse this fall that easily. Mr. Koenig's opponent is Mike Baker, a Democrat you've never heard of who beat Tim Quigley, a Democrat who we've never heard of.

        Mr. Baker, 25, is young and inexperienced. Mr. Koenig is battle-tested and ready for a fight, though he needs to replenish his campaign coffers.

        And the Republicans say Mr. Plummer ran on a platform the Democrats will use in the fall, that is the fiscal court raised taxes and can't make the tough decisions, like where to build a new county jail.

        To paraphrase the O.J. trial, if the election is close you might be toast. I rest my case.

        E-mail pcrowley@enquirer.com. Past columns at Enquirer.com/columns/crowley.

       



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