Bluegrass Politics: Predictions for ’07

As crazy as Kentucky’s political scene was in 2006, I believe it will only get nuttier in 2007. Here are my predictions:

Familiar faces. Despite rampant speculation to the contrary, Attorney General Greg Stumbo (D) and Auditor Crit Luallen (D) decide to seek re-election to their posts. Neither faces significant primary opposition and they both win their May primaries handily, as do Secretary of State Trey Grayson (R) and Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer (R).

Williams whacks Fletcher, again. The 2007 General Assembly proves another political nightmare for Gov. Ernie Fletcher (R) as Senate President David Williams (R) continues asserting himself as the top Republican in Frankfort and stymies Fletcher at every turn, while U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R) becomes more candid about his clear opposition to Fletcher. Fletcher joins Democratic leaders to try to kill the law mandating a gubernatorial runoff election if no candidate gets at least 40 percent of the vote, but Williams kills the measure in the Senate, further crippling Fletcher’s chances of winning a nasty primary fight.

Richards runs. Going back on a promise to his members in 2005, House Speaker Jody Richards (D) wins re-election as speaker and immediately begins running for governor despite public anger from some House Democrats. Richards struggles to raise funds while spending time presiding over the busy session and finds himself badly trailing the pack by spring.

Fletcher knocked out. By mid-January, Kentucky Republican leadership succeeds in convincing soon-to-be former U.S. Rep. Anne Northup (R) to challenge Fletcher in the 2007 Republican gubernatorial primary. After choosing House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover (R) as her running mate, they knock off Fletcher in a vicious primary, garnering more than 40 percent of the vote and avoiding a runoff. Despite spending millions of his own money, Paducah businessman Billy Harper (R) finishes a distant third with barely 15 percent of the vote.
Miller-Maze — that’s the ticket. The slate of Treasurer Jonathan Miller (D) and Jefferson County Attorney Irv Maze (D) runs a strong primary campaign from start to finish and wins the Democratic gubernatorial primary with 43 percent of the vote in a four-way race, defeating former Lt. Gov. Steve Beshear and Richards, who garner 31 percent and 22 percent, respectively. Otis Hensley picks up the remaining 4 percent.

Yarmuth shows skill. By year’s end, political observers are impressed by the deft political moves flashed by recently elected U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth (D) during his first term, and by December no strong Republican emerges to challenge him in 2008. Yarmuth is recognized for his efforts on re-shaping federal education policy and also secures funding for crucial Louisville projects thanks to his close relationship with U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler (D), who sits on the powerful House Appropriations Committee.

Kentucky in the spotlight. National Democrats find themselves with only one competitive race in 2007 after Republicans appear headed for big victories in the Mississippi and Louisiana governors’ races. So they invest substantial amounts of money and resources in Kentucky as national political observers focus on the Bluegrass as a bellwether for the 2008 presidential race. As a result, several presidential candidates, including frontrunners John McCain (R) and John Edwards (D) (who tops the early primary-state polls by late summer), make numerous visits to help their party’s nominees.

Conway pressed to take on McConnell. By summer, a national full-court press is on to convince Louisville’s Jack Conway to challenge Sen. Mitch McConnell (R) for his seat in 2008. Conway initially finds himself odd man out in the ’07 elections — his plans to run for attorney general are shelved after incumbent Greg Stumbo opts to seek re-election — but Democratic political figures convince Conway that a race against the Republican Senate leader will be the marquee Senate race in 2008, and Conway seems inclined to make the bid.

It’s Miller time. In November, State Treasurer Miller, who’ll be 40 at the time, surprises the Kentucky political world and is elected governor by a surprisingly strong 55 percent to 45 percent margin over Northup. Northup’s Achilles’ heel proves to be threefold: She fails to shake the stereotype of being a “Louisville candidate”; her past opposition to rural issues like the tobacco buyout costs her important support among rural voters; and loyal Fletcher supporters refuse to actively support her candidacy after the bitter and divisive primary.
That’s how I see it. How about you?

Mark Nickolas is publisher of Kentucky’s most widely read political blog, Contact him at [email protected]