Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Republicans win only one race, but look hopefully to future

By Rachel Bryant
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

James Comer was elected Kentucky’s commissioner of agriculture Tuesday night, the Republican Party’s lone star in statewide elections that saw Democrats taking the other five offices. But Republican gubernatorial candidate David Williams was all smiles, noting that he keeps his seat as state Senate president.

Larry Forgy, the 1995 Republican nominee for governor, said at the party's election-night gathering that the results were not any indication of the strength of the party in Kentucky.

“We haven’t won but two governor’s races since World War II so we don’t measure our strength in this state by governor races,” said Forgy. “We will still have control of the state Senate, which is very powerful, and Mr. Williams will be sitting there.”

Forgy also noted that Republicans hold both of Kentucky’s U.S. Senate seats and four of its House seats, and predicted that they would win the Bluegrass-area seat next year.

Phil Moffett, who lost to Williams in the Republican primary, said Williams’s biggest difficulty was having to overcome dislike for him in both parties. Moffett said Williams lost a lot of time and money trying to convince people he was a different person than they perceived him to be. He said being state Senate president both helped Williams with the election and hurt him.

“[It] helped him with name recognition, which is something I sorely lacked, but hurt him because the media has been demonizing him and he’s been Senate president for almost 12 years now and has been demonized the whole time,” said Moffett, who is president and chief executive officer of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, a conservative think tank.

Two Kentucky Education Association members were at the Republican Party’s election night event, which some Republicans did not like because of KEA’s endorsement of Gov. Steve Beshear. Charles Main and John Warren were at the event to support Comer, the one Republican KEA endorsed and the one Republican who won.

Main, KEA’s communication director, said Williams’s words hurt his chances of getting KEA support. “He’s been plain spoken to the point of offense on subjects related to public education and public school employees,” he said.  “He’s been careless in some of the things he has said and I think our members and our colleagues who aren’t members take that to heart.”

Bill Johnson was the first Republican to concede. He lost the secretary of state race to Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes. In a short speech, he credited one of Lundergan’s commercials with helping her win the race: “I’ll have to say her grandmothers are very effective campaigners,” he said. “It’s time for me to go find work and I guess I’ll be counting the dollars instead of counting the votes.”

John Kemper lost the auditor race to Democrat Adam Edelen, gaining only 44 percent of the votes. “My only regret is we didn’t bring home a win for conservatives in the state of Kentucky because the future is not bright,” said Kemper. “We’re going to have to roll up our sleeves and make this thing work despite our government.”

The treasurer race was the closest of the night. Democratic incumbent Todd Hollenbach just barely defeated Republican K.C. Crosbie, 49 percent to 46 percent. Libertarian Kenneth Moellman got 5 percent. Many speculated that Moellman stole votes from Crosbie, leading to her loss. “For the people of Kentucky, I feel honored despite the ultimate outcome tonight,” said Crosbie.

Todd P’Pool, Republican hopeful for attorney general, lost to Democratic incumbent Jack Conway. His campaign focused on tying Conway to President Barack Obama, who is unpopular in Kentucky. Last night’s concession speech was no different. An energetic P’Pool tried to rally the crowd about the future. “I know the excitement of the dawn hour and I’m ready for the countdown to begin,” he said. “Tomorrow the countdown begins to replace President Barack Obama.”

Some in the crowd bet on whether or not Williams would give a concession speech and if he did, the attitude he would take. To the surprise of many, he was in the mood to celebrate: “Before I go back home to Burkesville I’m reporting for duty tomorrow in Frankfort, Kentucky, as president of the Kentucky Senate,” he said. Williams gave his speech with apparent conviction, saying it’s time to get to work to build a better Kentucky.

“If you’ve been reading the newspapers lately, and I have been, you see that Kentucky has dire circumstances for our financial situation. We still have 9.7 percent unemployment and real unemployment even harder than that,” he said. “We all have to work together because I am not going to be satisfied, and the members of this Senate here on this stage are not going to be satisfied, until every Kentuckian that wants a job has an opportunity. I want to work with all the folks that will work with us to make sure we have a better Kentucky.”

Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer, Williams’s running mate for lieutenant governor, said it’s time to put aside partisanship. “It’s time to try to work together and make Kentucky a better place for us all to live and work and for our kids to grow up in and have opportunities,” he said.

Farmer's successor, Comer, was the last to speak at the Republican event, concluding it on a high note. Comer beat Democrat Bob Farmer 64 to 36 percent. “This victory tonight has broken all the rules of conventional wisdom,” Comer said. “We proved you can get elected in Kentucky with a good message and a good organization.” He added, “It is my pledge to the people of Kentucky that tonight you have elected an active, informed, and accessible commissioner of agriculture who will work tirelessly to expand markets for Kentucky farmers and enhance rural economic development.”

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