Sunday, June 1, 2003

Republicans hold unity rally

By Joe Biesk
The Associated Press

FRANKFORT, Ky. - Just blocks north of the state Capitol Saturday, Republican Ernie Fletcher gathered with other GOP candidates under a tent at party headquarters to rally support for the fall election.

Despite winds and cloudy skies that threatened rain, Republican Party officials paraded out their ticket of statewide candidates from Agriculture Commissioner candidate Richie Farmer up to gubernatorial candidate Fletcher.

Candidates, including Fletcher, noted their proximity to the Capitol complex and pointed to it when vowing victory in November.

"You can feel the wind blowing, and if you've noticed it's changed...," Fletcher told reporters before the rally. "People are ready. They are really ready for us to end the days of the good ol' boy political system."

With a swirling sex scandal that has plagued outgoing Democratic Gov. Paul Patton, Republicans view the governor's mansion as the ripest it's been for the taking in decades. Republicans have not won the office since 1967.

Fletcher posted a primary victory in May over GOP gubernatorial candidates Steve Nunn, Rebecca Jackson and Virgil Moore. He now faces Democratic Attorney General Ben Chandler in the fall.

U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, leader of the state's Republican Congressional delegation, led the charge Saturday, and promised future years of Republican dominance in state government.

"Thirty-two years of drift, incompetence and corruption are coming to an end in November," McConnell said. "The sun is setting on the old order and the dawn is about to rise under the leadership of Ernie Fletcher."

McConnell's wife, U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, also attended.

Chao's presence marked the second time in three days that a member of the Bush administration has visited the state in support of Fletcher. U.S. Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham was with Fletcher Thursday for a news conference and a fundraiser in Lexington.

U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning also attended the "unity" rally and cookout.

While the primary election was at times contentious, Republicans said they've moved on and are unified with their sights set on the fall's general election.

Fletcher lost his first running mate, Hunter Bates, after a judge ruled he did not meet constitutional residency requirements. Former federal prosecutor Steve Pence replaced Bates on the ticket.

Nunn, whose campaign challenged Bates' place on the ticket, also tried to have Fletcher disqualified from the race.

Nunn did not attend the main event Saturday afternoon. However, he spoke with the Republican Executive Committee in the morning before heading off to a wedding in Lexington.

Still, Nunn said in a press release he supports Fletcher and Pence.

"They are the only true agents of change in the general election," Nunn said in a written statement.

Meanwhile, Jackson cut short her vacation in San Diego, Calif., to fly back to Kentucky Friday night, she said. She said she felt showing a unified party was important to her.

"I think it's time the Republicans learned how to kiss and make up after the primary," Jackson said.

Moore was invited but did not attend, Party Chairman Ellen Williams said. Moore did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

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