Skip to comments.Fletcher (R) Counts on Conservative Democrats in Western KY
Posted on 11/01/2003 8:43:24 AM PST by Theodore R.
Posted on Sat, Nov. 01, 2003
ELECTION 2003 W.Ky. becomes campaign hot spot
FLETCHER COUNTS ON CONSERVATIVE DEMOCRATS By Ryan Alessi HERALD-LEADER FRANKFORT BUREAU
HOPKINSVILLE - Democrat Ben Chandler and Republican Ernie Fletcher both knew it might come down to this: Traditionally Democratic far Western Kentucky is going to have a lot to say about who moves into the governors' mansion.
And although that block would seem to hand Chandler a big edge on paper, that's not exactly happening as both men scramble for votes on the far side of I-65 with three days left before Tuesday's election.
Fletcher's specially tailored anti-abortion, no-tax, pro-gun message is winning over many who are officially on the books as Democrats.
In his bid to become the first Republican governor in 32 years, the Lexington congressman has charged in and out of the region eight times in the past 14 days.
He's making one more run at wavering Democrats today as President Bush flies into Paducah to deliver a personal endorsement before going to London for a similar GOP rally.
For Chandler, the battle has come down to keeping the area's once-loyal Democrats loyal. He needs not only a win, but a solid win to make a dent in Fletcher's statewide lead that is reflected in recent polls.
Chandler has darted in and out five times to plug traditional party themes such as job security while distancing himself from scandal-tainted Gov. Paul Patton, also a Democrat. One last stop is planned Monday.
To some area residents who have felt ignored by Frankfort in the past, the attention is overdue.
"We've been rather fortunate with the candidates in Western Kentucky this year," said John Brame, commander of the Hopkinsville VFW post. "We love a little recognition."
A glance at voter registrations in many of the 18 counties of the region would suggest a slam-dunk for any Democrat who runs. In some counties the ratio reaches 10-to-1 Democratic.
But in many communities, such numbers mean little. Many Western Kentucky Democrats see themselves as conservative, go to church twice a week, fiercely defend gun owners' rights and are still outraged at Patton's messy extramarital affair.
And growing numbers have already pulled the Republican lever -- for Bush, U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield of Hopkinsville and both of Kentucky's Republican U.S. senators.
"We're conservative, registered Democrats and independent as hell," explained Wesley "Tag" Mabry, 80, as he sipped coffee at the Wood Shed Bar-B-Q restaurant.
"We try to vote for the individual, not the party," echoed Jim Moss, 72.
That's just what the Republicans are counting on.
To reach such voters, a Washington-based Republican group, Fletcher's campaign and local parties have flooded area airwaves with ads stressing Fletcher's conservative credentials.
They note that he's against abortion, has signed a no-new-tax pledge and is rated A-plus by the National Rifle Association. Some ads also paint Chandler as a liberal who "supported Al Gore, who wanted to take our guns away."
In Christian County, local Democratic officials -- Chandler's strongest supporters -- have tried to slow the Republicans with ads declaring that "the Democratic Party has been good" to the county over the years by funding local projects.
Democratic volunteers hand out "Sportsman for Chandler" bumper stickers and note that Chandler has an A rating from the NRA.
Still, the Republican party has acquired more new voters. Since the May 20 primary, 1,956 people in the region have registered Republican, nearly triple the 672 new Democrats.
On a brisk, clear Wednesday night -- church night -- about 75 people gathered for a bonfire and Republican rally at a cattle dealer's estate south of Hopkinsville.
Ralph Hacker, the former radio voice of University of Kentucky basketball, who has been campaigning with Fletcher, said he has seen Democratic friends at nearly every event.
"We overflowed a fire hall yesterday in Fulton County -- 250 people," he said. Fulton County, population about 7,700, has only 662 registered Republicans.
The crowds have been a cross-section of ages, he added. That underscores a recent poll by the Herald-Leader and other media outlets that showed Fletcher faring twice as well as Chandler among voters ages 18 to 34.
Chandler leads among those 65 and older.
One new voter at the bonfire was Michael Gray, an 18-year-old Hopkinsville High School senior. He said he comes from a "very Democratic family," but had a Republican epiphany during the 2000 presidential race.
"I was watching the news and I realized I identified with the Republicans on the issues," he said. He started a school Republican club that has 43 members. A competing Democratic club's first meeting drew nine people.
By contrast, the morning after the bonfire, Chandler attracted about 80 mostly retired Democrats or elected officials to the VFW hall.
Christian County Judge-Executive Steve Tribble, one of Chandler's fiercest allies, said that although Republicans have outspent Chandler nearly 4-1 on television ads in the region, door-to-door campaigning could be the difference.
He pulled from his pocket a Republican press release announcing the party's 72-hour get-out-the-vote blitz.
"We've been at it for 72 days. They'll be doing it for 72 hours," he said.
Democrats also are hoping the city's relatively large concentration of African-Americans will come to the polls in force.
Austin Moss, a member of the Hopkinsville school board and father of UK freshman basketball player Ravi Moss, said that even if many African-Americans have yet to tune in to the race, church services Sunday should create a buzz as pastors urge their congregations to vote.
At the Wood Shed Bar-B-Q, where the gossip is usually as juicy as the mutton, several retirees predict Fletcher might even win Christian County, which is 3-1 Democratic.
They recalled that three years ago, presidential candidate George W. Bush stopped at the Wood Shed for a sandwich.
"He just fit right in with the rest of us. He changed a lot of Democrats' minds that day," said Junior Mathis, 70. "My daddy was an awful strong Democrat. Wouldn't even think of voting Republican," he added.
"Things are different now."
Yep, same is happening in WV-- every day brings Dead Democrats and infant Republicans.
The margin may increase, due to a smear effort by the Dems - cooked up a "letter" from a Republican woman accusing Fletcher of having a long-term affair. Total garbage and likely to offend the conservative and independent Democrats throughout Kentucky. This could drive the magin up to 10% or more for Ernie Fletcher.
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