Sunday, September 14, 2003

GOP's 'scandal' can't compete with Patton's

Pat Crowley

It's just not a Kentucky governor's race until you can start throwing around the phrase "sexual torture."

That came up this week and, surprisingly, it did not involve Gov. Paul Patton. While his admitted affair with Tina Conner is torturing Democrats this election season, it is the Republicans who are now taking a little heat.

The deputy campaign manager and congressional press secretary for GOP governor candidate Ernie Fletcher resigned two weeks ago after some lurid details about the aide's past leaked out. That's the problem with those darn lurid details - they always seem to find a way to leak out.

According to published reports, Nicholas Mirisis, while student body president four years ago at University of North Carolina-Charlotte, plagiarized a paper. He then was accused of sending an e-mail threat to the editor of the campus newspaper that revealed the fraud. The editor, a former girlfriend of Mirisis, said he sent her an e-mail that threatened her with "sexual torture" and death and contained pornographic images.

Mirisis was never charged with a crime and denies the woman's allegations. He said he left Fletcher's campaign to prevent "embarrassment and distraction" for the candidate. Little too late for that, don't you think?

The Fletcher campaign admitted it did not fully research Mirisis's background, the same excuse used after Fletcher's original lieutenant governor running mate - Hunter Bates - had to leave the ticket for failing to meet state residency requirements.

Does this show some sloppy, shoddy work by the Fletcher team? Yes.

Will it mean anything to voters? Doubtful.

Democrats were faintly hoping last week that with the air of sex scandal among the Republican ranks that maybe, just maybe, Patton's affair will no longer be such ripe fodder for the GOP.

Not a chance. People don't care about Nicholas Mirisis and what he may or may not have done when he was in college. The behavior of the sitting governor on the other hand is a little more pertinent to a governor campaign.

You will probably hear about Mirisis and Bates in some Democratic campaign ads. And you just know Patton will play a starring role in GOP ads this fall. If he doesn't, the Republicans will miss a great opportunity to exploit their main campaign mantra - throw the bums (Dems) out of Frankfort.

Polls from all sides show the race a dead heat with no real issues catching the public's eye, with the exception of gaming. Both candidates say the voters should decide the gambling issue. Democratic candidate Ben Chandler is advocating gaming as way to boost the state's sagging budget, while Fletcher continues to say he is not for gaming "at this time" but won't stand in the way of a statewide ballot initiative.

So this race will come down to what so many other political races are decided by these days - television ads.

Fletcher ran his first ad this week, a soft bio spot that introduces himself and his family to only part of Kentucky right now. By this time next month you'll be sick of seeing governor ads, and there will be enough mud being tossed around to satisfy a couple of hogs.

And by Nov. 5 you'll know the winner. He'll be the one with the best ads.


Crowley interviews Campbell County Democratic Chairman Terry Mann and Kenton County Republican Chairman Greg Shumate this week on ICN6's "On The Record," which is broadcast daily on Insight Communications Channel 6.

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