FORT THOMAS - The race for Campbell County Sheriff is more than three years away, but candidates are already lining up to run.
Former Campbell County Judge-executive Ken Paul is considering coming out of political retirement to run for sheriff in 2006. But Paul, a Fort Thomas Democrat out of the political scene since losing the 1998 judge-executive race to Republican Steve Pendery, said he won't run if Democratic incumbent Sheriff John Dunn seeks a fifth term.
"Sheriff is really the political office I always wanted to hold," said Paul, who worked as a police officer in Southgate in the early 1970s and, but for a mandatory move to eastern Kentucky, was close to joining the Kentucky State Police around the same time.
"If the incumbent doesn't run and that position is wide open, then I think a key Democrat would have a strong chanc to win."
Fort Thomas Republican Steve Taylor, the operator of pest control and home inspection businesses, has already indicated he will run. Taylor ran - and lost - on a platform of improving and increasing the law enforcement capabilities and responsibilities of the sheriff's office.
Under Dunn, the office mainly performs constitutional and other duties, including collecting taxes, serving court papers and warrants, transporting prisoners and providing courthouse security.
Paul also said he would study additional law-enforcement duties for the office, particularly in the arena of homeland security.
But the potential candidate with the strongest resume in criminal work is Fort Thomas Police Lt. Rich Whitford, a Republican who is only considering running. In addition to working as a police officer, Whitford has a college degree in law enforcement, has taken graduate-level courses and has trained with the FBI.
The wild card in the mix is Dunn. While many people assume Dunn will retire at the end of his term, that may not be the case.
"I'm thinking about running again," Dunn said last week. "I'm only 52. I don't know if I'm ready to retire."
And even if Dunn does not run, he won't support Paul, who appointed him to the post in 1988.
Dunn said he would back one of his long-time deputies, Nick Chaplin.
Paul is right: This race will be wide open.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee shipped around a poll last week showing that U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning, a Southgate Republican, is "vulnerable" in his 2004 re-election campaign.
Vulnerable to whom? The Dems still don't have a candidate to run against Bunning, a father of nine who is raising campaign cash the way he raised kids - in bunches. Look for Bunning to report a huge number, maybe as much as $500,000, on his quarterly campaign finance report.
When, and maybe if, the Democrats field a candidate, he or she will not only be getting a late start on the campaign trail but will be way behind in money raised. Remember, Gov. Paul Patton - who was going to run against Bunning pre-sex scandal - was out raising money two years ago. Bunning will be in a position to spend $5 million to $8 million.
No way can a Democrat get near that, unless it's Charlie Owen, the wealthy Louisville businessman who is running for lieutenant governor. Owen hasn't written any big checks in this year's race, but he would have to put up some cash to even be in the same league with Bunning.
None of that stopped the Dems from crowing about Bunning, claiming the poll of 612 likely voters interviewed June 6 and June 8 found that only 40 percent of Kentucky voters would vote for Bunning next year.
"Like a tobacco leaf in autumn, this poll shows that Jim Bunning is ripe for the pickin's," said Democratic spokesperson Brad Woodhouse.
Bunning and his camp dismissed the poll as partisan politics since the Democrats commissioned the survey. And Bunning spokesman Mike Reynard took issue with the committee's knowledge of Kentucky agriculture.
"In Kentucky, we don't pick tobacco in autumn, we cut it in August," Reynard said. "Obviously, the (Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee) knows as much about Kentucky politics as they do about tobacco."
Meanwhile, the lack of a Democratic candidate has convinced University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato, who also runs the school's Center for Politics, to handicap the race as "likely Republican."
"With Patton most definitely out of the race, and with the state Democratic Party reeling from the gubernatorial mess and the substantial GOP tide in Kentucky, a second term for Bunning looks a lot more likely," Sabato wrote on the center's Web site.
Email Patrick Crowley at email@example.com. Crowley interviews Kentucky House Majority Caucus Chairman Jim Callahan this week on ICN6's "On The Record," broadcast daily on Insight Communications Channel 6.
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