Ernie Fletcher: Still Kentucky Dems' Secret Weapon?

Kentucky Republicans thought they were done with Ernie Fletcher when he was walloped in his 2007 reelection bid. But yesterday he may have cost the G....
by | February 11, 2009

Kentucky Republicans thought they were done with Ernie Fletcher when he was walloped in his 2007 reelection bid. But yesterday he may have cost the G.O.P. a state senate seat and Republicans have no one to blame but themselves.

The special election, in Western Kentucky's Butler and Warren counties (fun fact: Warren is a "moist" county), was to replace a Republican, Brett Guthrie, who was elected to Congress in November. Despite a Democratic edge in voter registration, this district has been voting Republican lately. Both John McCain and Mitch McConnell won Warren County and Butler County easily.

What's more, the Republican nominee, J. Marshall Hughes, was far better funded than the Democrat, Mike Reynolds. Reynolds estimated a couple of weeks ago that he was going to be outspent 5-1. Hughes began running T.V. ads the day after he received the Republican nomination. Reynolds didn't get any help from Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear.

So, you can see why I fully expected Hughes to win yesterday. As it turned out, Reynolds won relatively easily with around 55% of the vote, reducing the Republican edge in the Senate to 22-16.

While local analysis is spotty, I've found only one reason why Hughes lost. He was one of the people who was indicted in Ernie Fletcher's hiring scandal and then pardoned by the governor before he could be brought to trial.

In essence, the pardons were an act of political murder-suicide by Fletcher. He doomed his own reelection chances and tainted the reputations of the people he pardoned, even as he freed them from legal jeopardy. Couldn't Republicans have found someone other than Hughes to nominate?

The Kentucky race is a good reminder that, while it's tempting to judge the nation's political mood on the basis of special election results, often politics really is local. It probably wasn't fair to say Republicans had the momentum based on several good special election results in December and January. It certainly isn't fair to say Democrats have their mojo back based on one win in Kentucky where the Republican nominee suffered from Fletcher's kiss of death.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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