Bluegrass Politics: Gubernatorial Power Rankings (Republicans)

Aug 8, 2006 at 9:05 pm

Now that Fancy Farm has come and gone, the beginning of the 2007 gubernatorial campaign pre-season is upon us, like it or not. Within a few months, the regular season will begin as prospective candidates become formal ones, after gaining running mates and filing formal candidacy papers (deadline: Jan. 31). Then, on May 22, 2007, each political party will elect its nominee for the Nov. 6, 2007 general election.

This week, I take a candid look at the 12 Republican candidates who are most rumored to be running, and I rank them in order of likelihood of winning their party’s nomination (not necessarily of winning the general election — let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves here).

Next week I’ll do a similar ranking for Democrats, and every month or so, I’ll update and revise these rankings based on developments and the chatter about possible new entrants.
If nothing else, you’ll have a head start on who’s thinking of running for governor and the skinny about them, at least in my opinion.

1. Gov. Ernie Fletcher — Come on, of course he’s still No. 1 in the primary. Hard to imagine him winning re-election, but winning a primary against an incumbent with a wealthy new running mate is a tough task. Don’t underestimate the power of incumbency in primaries. Still top dog among Republicans.
2. U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers — Fletcher’s biggest problem if he runs, but hard to imagine him leaving Congress unless Democrats take back the House in November. Could raise serious money from national sources. Downside: age (68) and he’s close to several ongoing ethics scandals.
3. U.S. Rep. Anne Northup — Next after Rogers as far as gravitas. Anti-Louisville sentiment statewide is a problem, and she’s not a very “pleasant” candidate. But tough as nails in a campaign and can raise cash.
4. U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield — Not as strong as Rogers or Northup but formidable. Can raise money but not well known outside of district and hasn’t had a competitive race in a decade. Is another obscure Republican congressman the right candidate on the heels of current one?
5. State House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover — Not well-known but plenty of cross-party respect for intelligence and ability. Got things done in state House as minority leader. Downside: questionable ability to raise enough money to compete. A stable “adult” who is not overly polarizing. Possible consensus choice.
6. Lt. Gov. Steve Pence — Huge hill to climb. Resign from ticket a year after scandal, but not his job as LG. Certainly not as despised as Fletcher, but still has huge albatross if he runs next year. Too many hypocritical moments would trip him up in a race for top spot. He’s better off waiting a cycle. Damaged goods.
7. State Senate President David Williams — The most effective tactical stateside Republican and master politician, but also a “10” on the polarizing scale, plus he has personal issues that would dog him. Prodigious fundraiser and solid on the campaign trail, but too flawed to win a general, causing many to pause.
8. Secretary of State Trey Grayson — Future major league franchise player but still cutting his teeth in political minor leagues. Smart, clean, well-liked by both sides, but at 34 too young to be top-of-ticket. Would make excellent No. 2, considering N. Ky. base and youth. Most view him as 2008 congressional candidate or 2010 Senate candidate, but not ready for prime time in 2007.
9. Commissioner of Agriculture Richie Farmer — Not adept politically or knowledgeable generally, but UK legend would vault to Top 10 status due to his celebrity. However, running for top slot would require articulating policy if matched up against knowledgeable primary opponents. Hard to see him survive primary unless he was an heir-apparent and didn’t have to talk much.
10. Robbie Rudolph — Fletcher’s newest running mate has deep pockets and a ready-made platform and agenda (albeit widely disapproved statewide) if Fletcher eventually drops out. Known for ill-advised petty political moves and one of Fletcher’s last defenders, which will cost him credibility even among Republicans.
11. Billy Harper — Successful Paducah businessman and former Fletcher finance chairman is making noise to jump in as alternative. Would have to start from scratch, isn’t known and isn’t a first-tier candidate, but might be able to stand out in crowded field dependent on paid advertising. Tough sell.
12. Former GOP Chair Ellen Williams — Very talented political operative who knows campaigns. A McConnell loyalist, so should be able to raise money, but gotta wonder how a recently divorced mother plays to ultra-conservative Republican primary voters. Would make excellent No. 2, but hard to see her gunning for top spot in 2007.

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