Sunday, September 7, 2003

Dems talk big, but can they win?



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It's early September, meaning we can expect promises of victory from two organizations - the Cincinnati Bengals and Northern Kentucky Democrats. In both cases, those promises have gone unfilled for the last decade or so.

The Bengals will try to get back on the winning track against the Denver Broncos this afternoon at Paul Brown Stadium. Friday night, a huge gathering of Democrats packed the home, backyard and driveway of Erlanger lawyer Phil Taliaferro to rally for a victory in the governor's race this fall..

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis has told fans to expect a new team on the field this season. Gubernatorial Democratic candidate Ben Chandler said Friday that not only can he win the race against Republican Ernie Fletcher, but he can carry the GOP stronghold of Northern Kentucky in the process.

Should the fans and the faithful believe? Can these two moribund franchises spring back to life in 2003?

We might have an idea about the Bengals late this afternoon. We'll have to wait a couple of months to see if the Democrats can live up to the election season hype.

Make no mistake about it; the stakes for the Democrats this fall are huge. Outside of Gov. Paul Patton's two wins in the last decade and Ken Lucas' election to Congress, the Democrats haven't had much to brag about in Kentucky. Republicans have mostly run the table, taking over nearly all of the Congressional delegation, the state Senate, the majority of Northern Kentucky's legislative caucus and most major county offices in Boone and Kenton counties.

Any honest Democrat will tell you that if Chandler loses in the fall, the reelection of U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning, a Southgate Republican, is all but assured next year. And if Fletcher moves into the governor's mansion in early December, the Republicans may not move out for generations.

So the Democrats are fired up, pumping $50,000 into Chandler's campaign fund Friday night and rallying the troops like they haven't done in a awhile.

An unprecedented show of party might from across Kentucky turned out for what was clearly the Democratic social event of the season at Taliaferro's.

Among the legends in attendance were three former governors - Wendell Ford, Julian Carroll and Martha Layne Collins - and two former U.S. senators, Ford and Walter "Dee" Huddleston.

Crowd estimates ranged from 400 to 600 people. While those are huge numbers of Democrats, Chandler has been drawing big crowds during his frequent visits to Northern Kentucky.

Chandler has always run well in Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties. He was the only Democrat to carry the region during his two wins - 1991 and 1995 - as attorney general. And while his "ground game" organization here showed some early signs of weakness, past problems with campaign infighting and a lack of enthusiasm now appear to be just bad memories.

Fletcher admitted in an interview last week that he is probably not as well known as Chandler in this part of the state. Polling shows the candidates are in a dead heat here and across Kentucky.

Republicans are hardly rolling over. Fletcher's local organization is just as strong, if not stronger, than the Democrats. Whenever Fletcher comes to town, a small battalion of party activists follow his every move, and large groups of GOP supporters have been turning out for events. The party isn't about to let Northern Kentucky slip away when a victory in the governor's race is so close.

GOP leaders chuckle when Democrats suggest carrying Northern Kentucky this fall.

It will be interesting to see who has the last laugh.

E-mail pcrowley@enquirer.com




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