Several Democrats Interested In Kentucky Governor's Race

By Chris Cillizza and Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Sunday, December 3, 2006

Let the 2007 election campaign begin!

Democratic Rep. A.B. "Ben" Chandler's announcement last week that he will not challenge Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher (R) has left Democrats without a proven candidate in one of three gubernatorial races set for next year.

There is a handful of other Democrats interested in the race -- including two with deep pockets -- but none who would bring an impressive track record to the race.

One of the wealthy Democratic aspirants, Charlie Owen, ran several unsuccessful campaigns, including a 1994 bid for the House, a 1998 run for the Senate and a 2003 campaign for lieutenant governor. Bruce Lunsford, a Louisville businessman, spent more than $8 million of his own money in the 2003 gubernatorial primary campaign only to drop out just days before the voting. In the general election, he backed Fletcher over Chandler, a decision sure to be cited by his rivals if Lunsford decides to run for governor again.

Neither Owen nor Lunsford would have the field to himself, however. Former lieutenant governor Steve Henry, whose claim to fame is that he is married to Heather French Henry, a former Miss America, has said that he will run no matter who else is in the race. Henry served as lieutenant governor with then-Gov. Paul Patton (D) but ran into trouble in 2003 when he was forced to pay the federal government $162,000 to settle a case stemming from an investigation into his medical practice.

Among the other names mentioned: state Treasurer Jonathan Miller, who lost badly in the 6th Congressional District primary in 1998 but bounced back the following year to win his current post; state Attorney General Gregory D. Stumbo; state Sen. Daniel Mongiardo, the party's nominee against Sen. Jim Bunning (R) in 2004; and Jack Conway, who narrowly lost a 2002 race against 3rd District Rep. Anne M. Northup (R).

Regardless of who the Democratic nominee will be, Fletcher faces serious political problems because of a patronage scandal that has engulfed his administration and led to the indictments and resignations of several senior staffers. Fletcher faces a primary challenge from Billy Harper, who has pledged to spend as much as $10 million of his own money on the race and has already begun running television ads.

Govs. Haley Barbour (R) of Mississippi and Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D) of Louisiana will also stand for reelection in 2007.

Predictions From FEC Chief

The chairman of the Federal Election Commission predicts that the cost of the White House contest in 2008 will far outpace the cost of the 2004 election, and that a tough time ahead awaits one of the major programs overseen by his agency: the public financing of presidential campaigns.

"The nominees of both major parties will probably turn down public funds for the general election, as well as for the primaries" in 2008, said Michael E. Toner, who is scheduled to step down as FEC chairman on Jan. 1. Candidates have rejected public funds for the primaries before, but never for the general election.

As a result, Toner said, the 2008 race "will be the longest and most expensive in American history." By rejecting public funding, the top-tier candidates "will be free to raise as much money as they can for both the primaries and the general election and the nominees of each party likely will seek to raise $500 million or more for their campaigns."

That would be a lot more than in 2004. Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), the Democratic nominee, raised about $235 million, and President Bush collected approximately $270 million for their primary races. Both used public funds for the general election.

With the fundraising bar higher for 2008, Toner said that serious candidates will have to raise perhaps double what they had in the past by the end of next year to be considered viable contenders. "Presidential candidates will likely need to raise at least $100 million by the end of 2007 to be a top-tier candidate," he said.

Toner has been a proponent of upgrading the public financing system to increase its spending limits and to give candidates the chance to obtain more public funds.

The price tag should not be a problem for the leading prospective candidates, such as Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), outgoing Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani on the Republican side, and Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama (Ill.) on the Democratic side. For less-well-known candidates, however, the cost of the campaign could prove prohibitive.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company