Sunday, July 13, 2003

Dems draw up battle plan at saloon

Kentucky politics

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Northern Kentucky Democrats need more nights like the one they had last week in the back room of a Newport saloon.

It was stuffy and crowded Wednesday night in the rear of the West Side Cafe. But nobody was complaining.

The rhetoric was hot. The beer was cold.

Dinner - fried chicken, baked beans, deviled eggs, potato salad - was laid out across a row of washers and dryers that had been transformed into a makeshift buffet line. Dessert was over on the pool table.

Red meat was courtesy of attorney general candidate Greg Stumbo, the mountain Democrat and statehouse floor leader who is one of Kentucky's best political orators.

Stumbo juiced an already fired-up crowd by saying he didn't hate Republicans, "I just don't like the lyin' SOBs."

Campbell County Democratic Party chairman Terry Mann laid out a pragmatic political plan for this fall's statewide elections, one that includes the unglamorous but vital grass-roots work of knocking on doors, handing out bumper stickers and getting Democrats out to vote.

"We have good Democrats here that can still get out and elect Democrats," Mann said, his voice rising with each word.

Campbell County Clerk Jack Snodgrass hollered and led the room in applause after Mann issued his challenge.

Laura Roberts, the former Newport city commissioner and one of the pioneers of the city's riverfront revitalization, promised a deep commitment from her Campbell County Democratic Woman's Club, which hosted and organized the gathering.

Ruth Bauman was assigned to coordinate the campaign at the county's senior center and bingo halls.

And among the 50 or so Democrats packed into the room were some of the heaviest hitters the party has to offer. The names could be in a local Democratic Hall of Fame: Donnermeyer, Callahan, Guidugli, Dunn, Cole, Sparks, Calme, Plattner, Stricker.

"This is a group," Mann declared, "that can help the Democrats win in Campbell County, in Northern Kentucky and across Kentucky."

The optimism and energy were palatable. Democrats must be energized as never before.

Because along with the excitement seeping out of the West Side was a foreboding sense of urgency that hung in the air like a summer haze.

Democrats need Ben Chandler to beat Republican Ernie Fletcher in this fall's gubernatorial race - or a party that has already careened from once mighty heights will sink even farther into oblivion.

Much is riding on this November. But there is a good chance the Democrats could lose - even the party's biggest cheerleaders are conceding next year's U.S. Senate race to incumbent Republican Jim Bunning of Southgate.

Should Fletcher move into the governor's mansion, Democrats fear a Republican may not move out for generations. Republicans have been on a roll in this state for more than a decade. The Democrats chose to meet in Newport because it was one of the last places in Northern Kentucky where they can still lay some claim to dominance and power.

So Mann and Stumbo and Snodgrass and Donnermeyer and those tough Guiduglis and all the rest are girding for a fight. They won't back down. They just hope it's not a last stand.


E-mail Crowley interviews Newport City Manager Phil Ciafardini this week on ICN6's "On The Record," which is broadcast daily on Insight Communications Channel 6.

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