State Senate President David Williams has won Kentucky’s Republican gubernatorial primary with 48 percent of the vote. Williams faces Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear in this fall’s off-year election. Williams beat out businessman Phil Moffett and Jefferson County Auditor Barbara Holsclaw.
Turnout was incredibly low, less than ten percent, and Williams’ 15,000 vote margin over Moffett was narrower than expected, especially considering he outspent both opponents by about ten to one. Polls taken before the primary showed the senate president with a much larger lead.
“David’s message of creating jobs, protecting the taxpayers, and standing up to the Obama administration resonates with Kentucky voters and contrasts sharply with Steve Beshear’s record as governor,” said Republican Governors Association Executive Director Phil Cox in a statement.
Williams, 57, has led the state Senate since 2000, when Republicans took control. He’s been in the same seat since 1987. In 1992, he ran for Senate against Democratic incumbent Wendell Ford but lost in a landslide. He considered running against former Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) in the 2010 primary but chose to stay in the state legislature. Bunning ultimately retired.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), has said Williams will go down as the most important Republican state lawmaker in history and ranks “as one of the most skillful legislators I’ve ever seen.” Some lawmakers have been turned off by Williams’ combativeness; he’s known as “Bully from Burkesville” for his aggressive legislative style.
While many tea party activists flocked to Moffett and attacked Williams over past tax increases and spending projects, Williams has done his best to court the movement. In a speech last fall, he declared, “I am a Tea Partier.”
Williams was widely expected to win the primary, although his ticket has weathered bad press recently due to missteps by running-mate Richie Farmer, the agriculture commissioner and a famous former basketball player for the University of Kentucky. Strategists told the Fix a few weeks ago that Farmer’s gaffes were more likely to hurt the ticket in the general election than in a primary where competition was weak. (Williams himself has gotten some negative attention for his past gambling losses).
Unemployment is around ten percent — a statistic Republicans will surely hammer for the next six months. Beshear has argued that he helped prevent tax increases and state worker layoffs and made strategic cuts that preserved education funding. “The light at the end of that tunnel is real and we are moving closer to it,” he said in his last state of the state.
Beshear, who ran uncontested in the Democratic primary, has raised a formidable $5 million so far and has $3.3 million on hand. Williams raised about $1.2 million in the primary, with $669,839 on hand as of April 15.