How soon is too soon for GOP in 2011?

05/26/2010 08:50 PM

U.S. Senate candidate Rand Paul speaks as Sen. Mitch McConnell, far left, and R. Michael Duncan look on

Because timing in politics means so much, Republicans are trying to figure out when would be the best time for a gubernatorial ticket to emerge.

One school of thought is to wait until after the November elections so as not to interfere with fund-raising efforts of GOP U.S. Senate nominee Rand Paul and state legislators who are on the 2010 ballot.

“I just think there’s so many important races in 2010 that you’ve got to keep your eye on the ball,” said Ellen Williams, former state Republican chairman. “And the ball is 2010.”

Then again, waiting allows the incumbent Democratic governor, Steve Beshear, to add to the nearly $2 million head start that he and his running mate, Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson, already have.

If Republicans want to get a running start in challenging Beshear, perhaps taking advantage of many GOP voters’ excitement about Paul might help, said state Sen. Damon Thayer, a Georgetown Republican.

“It would be great if we had a slate by the fall so they could get on a bus and travel around the state with Rand paul much like Ernie Fletcher did with Mitch McConnell in 2002,” Thayer said.

Sen. Damon Thayer

Thayer has been talking about joining a slate as runing mate to Todd County businessman Bill Johnson, who cut short a bid for U.S. Senate this spring.

“I have a very strong interest in seeing that our party fields a very strong ticket from top to bottom next year,” he said, adding that he’s keeping his options open to perhaps run for other statewide offices, such as state auditor or secretary of state. The two incumbents — Crit Luallen, a Democrat, and Trey Grayson, a Republican — are term-limited. “Or I may run for re-election for the state Senate in 2012.”

Thayer said he probably wouldn’t run on a gubernatorial ticket if Commissioner of Agriculture Richie Farmer or

Senate President David Williams

state Senate President David Williams jumped in the race.

“I think President Williams would be a superior candidate for governor,” Thayer said.

R. Michael Duncan, an Inez banker and former Republican National Committee chairman, said 2010 offers an opportunity for would-be gubernatorial candidates to help strengthen the ranks of GOP elected officials before hitting the campaign trail themselves.

“I would say to all potential candidates for governor: You need to be doing everything that you can to elect Republicans in Kentucky up and down the ballot in 2010 — from the top … all the way down to magistrates in the counties,” Duncan told cn|2 Politics. “And the person who does that effectively will be building up a lot of political chits and chips and will have something of an organization already built up for themselves.”

More than a few Republicans being mentioned for statewide offices in 2011 have been fully-engaged in Republican fund-raising and candidate recruitment:

  • Williams runs the Republican state Senate caucus trust and is the political shepherd for the Senate majority.
  • Thayer is organizing a golf outing in Georgetown June 25 for the GOP Senate trust and co-hosting a sporting clay event in Owen County with Rep. Addia Wuchner, R-Burlington, to benefit the Republican House and Senate trusts.
  • Jess Correll, a Stanford banker, has contributed $22,500 to Republican state legislative candidates since January 2009.
  • And state Rep. Alecia Webb-Edgington, R-Fort Wright, has taken a more visible role for the party with speaking events, such as on KET’s Kentucky Tonight and during the statewide Lincoln Day Dinner last month. She also helped recruit many Republican candidates for the state House.

And without a clear favorite, waiting isn’t always bad.

Democratic tickets for governor in 2007 didn’t form and start running until after the November 2006 election. Even with the relatively late start, Beshear and his then-running mate Daniel Mongiardo won a seven-ticket primary and knocked off the Republican incumbent, Fletcher. (That, however, was an unusual circumstance because of the state employee hiring investigation that plagued Fletcher politically and led a grand jury to indict the governor before those charges were dropped in deal with prosecutors.)

Thayer said candidates for governor and lieutenant governor who demonstrate a clear contrast with Beshear shouldn’t have a problem catching up financially to be competitive.

“When the Republican Party coalesces around a slate to oppose Gov. Beshear and Mayor Abramson, I’m confident we will be able to raise money,” he said, “and raise money fast.”

- Ryan Alessi

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