Issue August 15, 2006

Bluegrass Politics: Gubernatorial power rankings: Democrats

Last week we looked at potential Republican gubernatorial candidates. This week we’ll look at the Democrats. With many political chess moves by both parties over the past few weeks, this will surely be a fluid situation for some time.

1. U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler — A lock for the nomination if he seeks it but unlikely to leave Congress if Democrats re-take House. Effectively freezes field until November.
2. Former Gov. Brereton Jones — Wants Chandler to run but is biggest player of the rest. Has money, stature and name. Downside: age (66), health insurance legacy during previous term, and may end up looking like one-issue candidate (expanded gaming). But would be hard to defeat in primary if he runs.
3. Auditor Crit Luallen — Being the only woman in race gives her edge over Abramson. In crowded field, she’ll draw disproportionate share of female vote among Democratic primary voters, who are 20 percent more female than male. As qualified as anyone, and Fancy Farm speech got rave reviews. Downside remains whether she can handle trench warfare and defending against residual Patton baggage. Won’t run if Chandler or Abramson do, so likely to benefit from their backing. Primary is ultimately a numbers game and don’t see how she loses.
4. Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson — Prodigious fundraiser and the top dog in a Democratic stronghold. Could win primary simply by running urban campaign with strategic rural pockets. Downside: lots of anti-Louisville sentiment statewide, and he’s gotten cold feet before, so many are skeptical he will really bite. Also, can’t announce until after November re-election, which could put him too far behind 8-ball and turn off some Louisville voters who just elected him to a full term. Overall, very strong.
5. Attorney General Greg Stumbo — Despite chatter, a very strong primary candidate. Loved by rank-and-file and has performed strongly as attorney general. Last week’s court ruling where none of Fletcher charges were dismissed strengthened his hand that case isn’t simply political.  In wide-open race, he’d be top-tier to win nomination. Would raise ample funds, and excellent on stump and wicked smart politician. Too often underestimated.
6. Former Lt. Gov. Steve Henry — Out of limelight past few years, coupled with residual Patton baggage and Medicaid investigation. Strengths: name ID, in the spotlight for eight years, has personal resources, and his Miss America wife is effectively a second running mate. Seems ready to announce but chatter is he’s having trouble finding running mate with at least four candidates saying no. Can’t dismiss, but flawed.
7. Treasurer Jonathan Miller — A little early for Miller at top of ticket, but he’s made the most of down-ticket office. Very strong fundraiser, aggressive campaigner, solid national contacts and is a current officer-holder. More likely attorney general or congressional candidate in near future. Only negative is political maturity.
8. State Sen. Daniel Mongiardo — Still residual support from 2004 Senate race, though Democratic base still upset he sponsored gay marriage amendment. Bachelor status not a positive but good life story and very articulate. Likely much better statewide candidate second time out, but would he stand out in crowded primary?
9. Terry McBrayer — The counterintuitive candidate. Well-liked prominent lawyer with friends across political spectrum. Wife, Ann, strong addition. Knows process and politics and would be great on stump. Downside, will be 69 on Election Day and quintessential insider. But Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) is perfect case study on making that a positive.
10. Jack Conway — Like Miller, probably too early for top of ticket, but unlike Miller not currently in spotlight after opting against rematch versus Northup where he’d be favorite in this climate. Louisville base, horseman, successful, new generation, articulate. Downside: could he play in rural Ky.? Better No. 2 this time but can’t rule out in wide-open field. Dark horse.
11. Charlie Owen — Should be higher but reluctance to pull trigger on running keeps many skeptical. Is 0-for-3 as candidate, which hurts perception. Can self-fund and would have chance to garner some remorse from 2003 race as Chandler’s No. 2. Downside: intelligent but not quick decision-maker. Will be 68 on Election Day. Tough sell.
12. Gatewood Galbraith — In a wide-open field, Gatewood would certainly garner more support than many candidates, but believe angry Dems would not throw away vote on candidate who is perceived as unelectable in general. Very smart and articulate. Could get 15 percent of vote, but fundraising would be necessary to overcome stereotype of him as serious contender. Don’t see it happening.
Outside, but looking in, are Speaker of the House Jody Richards, State Sen. David Boswell (D-Owensboro), and former candidate Bruce Lunsford.
 
Mark Nickolas is publisher of Kentucky’s most widely read political blog, BluegrassReport.org. Contact him at Mark@BluegrassReport.org