Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Fletcher to face Chandler in Ky.

One to succeed Gov. Paul Patton

By Charles Wolfe
The Associated Press

LOUISVILLE - Attorney General Ben Chandler won the Democratic primary for governor Tuesday, edging past House Speaker Jody Richards.

Richards conceded defeat at 9 p.m., 20 minutes after telephoning Chandler with congratulations. "I have no doubt Democrats across the state will unite behind him," Richards said.

U.S. Rep. Ernie Fletcher of Lexington won the Republican nomination and with it the challenge of ending 32 years of unbroken Democratic rule in the Capitol.

Turnout throughout the state was light. Secretary of State John Y. Brown III predicted it would be 20 percent of the state's 2.5 million registered voters.

Chandler got 141,398 votes, or 51 percent, to 125,578, or 45 percent, for Richards. Otis Hensley got 9,219 votes, or 3 percent.

Fletcher defeated three opponents, one of whom, Steve Nunn, tried in court to get him knocked off the ballot. Nunn conceded defeat before 8 p.m. and a third candidate, Rebecca Jackson, followed suit less than an hour later.

Fletcher said he got a congratulatory call from the White House - from President Bush's deputy political director. "They're looking for new leadership in this state," Fletcher told supporters.

In the general election campaign, Fletcher said he would draw a sharp contrast between himself and Chandler.

"It's going to be a very aggressive campaign," he said. "That's the nature of campaigns in Kentucky, and we're ready for it."

He said he would ask President Bush for help in the race. "Tonight, we got a good indication he will be here to help us," Fletcher said.

Chandler's reaction was one of profound relief. He called it "the end of one long journey and the beginning of another."

Chandler also threw praise toward Richards - "a fine, fine gentleman" - and even to Hensley, never seriously regarded as a candidate, who Chandler said "brought some spirit to this race that was badly needed."

He did not mention Bruce Lunsford, who spent most of his campaign bashing Chandler before withdrawing Friday. Lunsford threw his support to Richards, whose campaign enjoyed some sudden but short-lived momentum.

Nunn, who as the son of Kentucky's last Republican governor had a well-known name but modest financing, ran in third place behind Fletcher and Rebecca Jackson, the former judge-executive of Jefferson County. Also on the ballot was Virgil Moore, a retired Army officer.

Fletcher had 88,747 (57 percent) of the vote, with Jackson at 43,147 (28 percent) and Nunn with 20,147 (13 percent). Moore had 2,311 votes, or 1 percent.

Nunn, who angered many in his party by questioning whether Fletcher had disqualified himself by originally filing with an ineligible running mate, indicated he wanted to mend fences.

"I congratulate the victors. I look forward to working with the Republican Party to elect a Republican governor because it's time for change in Frankfort," Nunn said.

Kentucky is one of three states, along with Mississippi and Louisiana, electing governors this year.

Chandler was the acknowledged leader for the Democratic nomination last week. The size and strength of his lead was in dispute after Lunsford quit the race and endorsed Richards.

Lunsford spent $8 million of his own money - a record for a Kentucky primary. Because he withdrew so late, Lunsford's name remained on the ballot. County clerks had to post notices that votes for Lunsford and running mate Barbara Edelman would not be counted.

Democrats have won the last eight gubernatorial elections. That streak is threatened because of scandal surrounding term-limited Gov. Paul Patton, who was caught in an extramarital affair.

Chandler, who has been elected attorney general twice and state auditor once, bears one of the best known names in Kentucky politics. His grandfather, A.B. "Happy" Chandler, was twice governor, a U.S. senator and commissioner of baseball.

Fletcher, a physician and former Air Force fighter pilot, was viewed by many in his party as being its best hope. But the Nunn campaign attacked his right to run after Fletcher's original running mate, Hunter Bates, was declared ineligible. The Kentucky Supreme Court allowed Fletcher to replace Bates with Steve Pence, a former U.S. attorney.

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