Democrats focus on late statesman at Wendell Ford Memorial Dinner, rouse supporters ahead of Election Day

10/24/2015 03:50 PM

LEXINGTON — The Kentucky Democratic Party’s Wendell Ford Memorial Dinner drew about 300 to the Kentucky Horse Park on Friday evening, hoping to fire up the party faithful will just more than a week until election day.

While speakers at the stump appealed to those in attendance to help their campaigns in the coming days, most who took the podium shared some of their best stories and memories of Ford, who passed in January after battling lung cancer. Twenty-five members of Ford’s family attended the dinner in his honor.

Lt. Gov. Crit Luallen, who worked on Ford’s 1974 U.S. Senate campaign, said the late senator and governor proved influential for many state Democrats throughout their careers.

Ford, during a visit about three weeks before his death, “was still giving me advice about how Jack (Conway, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate) could win this election,” Luallen said.

“I’ve been doling it out to Jack a little bit at a time, and I’ve got a few more things left to tell you that he left you,” she said. “I looked at him that day, and I said, ‘Senator, I’m sitting in your old chair, boss, in the lieutenant governor’s office. What advice do you have for me?’ And he said, ‘You don’t need my advice anymore.’”

All but Democratic attorney general candidate Andy Beshear, who was campaigning in Louisville’s West End, took the stage to offer their thoughts on Ford and their prospects about a week from Election Day.

State Auditor Adam Edelen recalled accidentally hitting former Senate President David Williams with a small football during Fancy Farm the year he challenged Ford for the U.S. Senate. Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes recounted her family’s history with Ford and the words Ford left her on an autographed photo that resides in her office — “A speech should really be long enough to cover the essentials but short enough to get your attention,” Grimes said.

Conway, Kentucky’s attorney general, told the crowd of one of the last moments he shared with Ford at his home in Owensboro.

After securing his endorsement, Conway said Ford told him, “I’m sick, and if you’re going to use me, use me early. I want to help.”

Conway, who faces Republican Matt Bevin in the Nov. 3 election, also shared one of Ford’s last political goals before his death.

“He grabbed me and looked at me and said, ‘My goal is to live long enough to see you inaugurated on that platform in Frankfort,’” Conway said. “Wendell, he’s not here with us now, but he’s with us these next 10 days, and we’re going to win a great victory, and he’s going to look down upon us in early December folks.”

But before speaking about the late statesman, Conway relayed a more recent episode involving his daughters, his mother-in-law and the lack of restrooms on a trip to Owensboro on Friday.

“My mother-in-law, Sally Davenport, came to pick up the girls, and I want to read you this email just so you can understand how committed the Conway family is, OK? Eva is 6 and Alex is 4 folks, alright?” Conway said.

“So this is an email I just got here within the last couple hours from my father-in-law, Sim Davenport. It says, ‘Sally said the girls in running back to Owensboro needed a rest stop on the way home, but they were not near a restroom, so Sally said we may have to just stop by the side of the road. Eva said no, we can’t. Matt Bevin will hear about it and say Jack Conway’s kids pee on the side of the road and then poof, we lose the election.’”

Conway, in a nod to his decision to publicize his recent tax returns, said he would provide the email for public scrutiny.

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.


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