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.
Sports craze, fans hit the riverfront concrete this week
Florence getting on board: Skate park to open May 31
Key specialist groups lacking
Rebuke doesn't stop pastor
IN THE TRISTATE
Slaying arrest draws praise
Winburn's out of politics, but not far
Church accused of hiding evidence
Gas tax bill promises cash back
Evendale spars anew over renewal
When school's out, it's out
EPA to complete air-quality studies
Tristate A.M. Report
SMITH AMOS: Wake up, lawmakers
BRONSON: 'I'm no hero'
KORTE: City Hall
HOWARD: Some Good News
BUTLER, WARREN, CLERMONT
Builders behind in payments to schools
Deerfield trustee to be bailiff
Wanted: Job, family services officials
Fairfax seeks help on water woes
'Men of Steel' tests Butler teams' mettle
Fletcher to face Chandler in Ky.
Look for a war of political heavyweights
10% turn out for primary races
Baesler, Farmer wins set up November match
Stumbo to face GOP surprise Wood
Patton ally Luallen to face Greenwell
Mine operators to oppose U.S. coal-dust testing plan
School officials ask for dismissal of gay group suit
Charge reduced to manslaughter in convicting teen of student's death
CovCath's new synthetic field to cost $450,000
Officer killed on road usually covered water
Fort Knox unveils future virtual reality war tactics