David Williams confirms interest in running for governor with Richie Farmer as running mate

07/23/2010 03:21 PM

(UPDATED 4:33 p.m.) LOUISVILLE — Republican state Senate President David Williams told cn|2 Politics that he is “looking very closely at running for governor” in 2011 with Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer as his running mate.

“I believe the timing is right. I think the state needs a change in direction,” Williams said after being honored by the Kentucky Heart Association. “I think we have a rudderless ship right now” with Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear in office.

It was the strongest public statement Williams has made to date about whether he intends to run for the Republican nomination to challenge Beshear’s re-election bid.

Williams also confirmed that he has been in talks with Farmer, the former University of Kentucky basketball player, whom Williams described as “a close personal friend of mine.”

“We feel like we can run a very effective race if we can come together,” he said.

Here’s what he said:

And here’s what Williams had to say about Beshear:

Matt Osborne, spokesman for Beshear’s campaign, said in response that “it is way too early to start a political campaign.”

“Right now, the governor is focused on helping Kentucky families through this economic recession,” he said. “However, he is proud of his bipartisan work with the legislature to pass a comprehensive overhaul of our economic incentives to create and maintain jobs, as well as his reform of our pension system for state employees.”

Beshear has said little publicly about potential challengers in next year’s race. Here’s what he said last month in response to a question about Farmer expressing interest in the race:

Farmer’s spokesman, Bill Clary, confirmed on Friday that Williams “pitched him the idea” of running for lieutenant governor with him but that Farmer “hadn’t made the decision one way or the other.” Farmer has been elected twice as agriculture commissioner and is limited by the Kentucky Constitution from seeking a third term.

“It’s getting down to the time where he will make some decision about what he’s going todo once he leaves this position, and when he does he’ll make sure everyone knows,” Clary said.

Williams made his statements Friday in response to questions about results of the cn|2 Poll regarding the 2011 election.

In the poll, conducted by Braun Research Inc. of Princeton, N.J., respondents were asked if the 2011 election were held today whether they would vote for Williams or Beshear for governor. Of those who answered the question, 48.2% picked Beshear and 29.5% picked Williams with another 19.3% saying they were undecided.

The survey of 803 likely Kentucky voters was conducted July 19-21. It has a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points. Click here to view the survey tables.

Kentucky’s constitution requires candidates for governor to run as part of a slate with lieutenant governor candidate. Beshear chose Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson as his running mate next year after Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo opted to run for U.S. Senate this year instead of seeking re-election.

Independent candidates Gatewood Galbraith and Dea Riley have filed papwerwork to run as a slate.

But so far, no Republican ticket has formed and, until Friday, no one had confirmed talks between two prominent Republicans such as Williams and Farmer teaming up.

The results of questions regarding Beshear varied. A total of 69.7% percent of respondents said they approved of the job the governor was doing. But less than half of respondents picked Beshear over Williams and an even smaller percentage (46.8%) said they believed Beshear deserves a second term.

Osborne, spokesman’s for the governor’s campaign, said Beshear was “pleased when Kentuckians recognize the hard work that Governor Beshear is doing” but said he isn’t focused on polls or next year’s campaign.

Beshear and Abramson have been fund-raising, however, and have about $2 million in the bank.

Williams said he interpretted the numbers to mean the governor has “squishy support.”

“I think that this governor is very vulnerable if the right ticket is put together next November,” he said. “Commissioner Farmer and I would make a very strong team. We have the combined experience.”

UPDATED 4:33 p.m.: Later Friday, Williams provided cn|2 Politics with a one-page July 22 polling memo from his pollster, Brian Gottlieb, president of Got-Focus LLC, that showed that 45% of 1,013 likely voters picked the Beshear-Abramson ticket while 44% chose the Williams-Farmer ticket and 11% were undecided. The margin of error for that poll was 3.3 percentage points, according to Gottlieb’s memo. Click here to read the internal poll memo to Williams.

When respondents to the cn|2 Poll were asked to rate Williams performance as Senate president, 34.7% said they approved while 25.5% disapproved. But 38.3% offered that they didn’t know or had no opinion of Williams.

“It does not surprise me that (Beshear) would have a double-digit lead on me because approximately 38 percent of the people … have no opinion or do not recognize my name,” Williams said. “So that dispels the stories that the governor and his political pundits have put out that I am so unpopular or have such high negatives that I cannot be elected.”

Paul Braun, president of Braun Research who conducted the polling, said he was struck by the high percentage of those who didn’t know Williams, which signals that he has room to define himself and introduce himself to a large swath of voters.

Williams, however, questioned the cn|2 Poll’s results because he said the respondents skewed older.

Of the 803 respondents, nearly 77% were 50 or older. In comparison, that age bracket comprised about 58% of voters in the last gubernatorial election in 2007.

Williams said that some of the cn|2 Poll results closely matched numbers he has seen in his recent internal poll, such as the percent who believed Beshear deserved a second term (46%) and the number who had no opinion about or didn’t know Williams (38%).

The figure he most took issue with was Beshear’s approval rating of 69.7%.

“A 70% approval rating is not reflective in any poll that has ever been taken of the governor in the commonwealth of Kentucky,” Williams said. “I believe that the poll is off by about 15 or so points on that particular question.”

UPDATED: Results of the cn|2 Poll weighted by age based on past turnout barely changed the results, according to further analysis by Braun Research. Beshear’s approval rating dropped one point. Most other results barely moved.

Dave Oshman, vice president of Braun Research, said the results reflect that many younger voters haven’t dialed into the election. At the same time, the tea party movement has attracted many older voters “with more to say” and who are keenly interested in this election, Oshman said.

“What we are seeing is that where we are months away from elections the younger audience are more non committal than the older more seasoned voter,” Oshman said. “I feel it is giving us a snap shot of the way voters react and commit to an election several months out especially the younger voters.”

And the movement of younger voters will be something the cn|2 Poll will track over leading up to Nov. 2.

- Ryan Alessi with video produced by Holly Thompson

About Ryan Alessi

Ryan Alessi joined cn|2 in May 2010 as senior managing editor and host of Pure Politics. He is now pursuing an advanced degree in non-fiction writing from Murray State University and is a regular contributor to Pure Politics. Ryan has covered politics for more than 14 years, including seven years as a reporter for the Lexington Herald-Leader. Ryan can be reached at purepolitics@twcable.com or @mycn2 on Twitter.

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