Josh Goodman is a former staff writer for GOVERNING..E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Why, more than anything else, does Anne Northup say she should be the Republican nominee for governor of Kentucky? Not because she'll fix the state's health care system or improve public education or lower taxes or boost the state economy.
Oh sure, Northup, a former congresswoman who is challenging Governor Ernie Fletcher in the GOP primary, says she'll do those things. But to win the May 15 22 primary, Northup is depending on the political equivalent of peer pressure: the electability argument.
She's not ashamed of it either. Her first two campaign ads end with the slogan: "The only Republican who can win in November: Anne Northup."
Talk of electability is, of course, a staple of modern campaigns. Candidates tout their broad appeal as they woo donors, activists and potential endorsers. But a blunt pitch like that, targeted at average voters, isn't something you see every day.
Northup, however, doesn't have any other choice. To unseat a sitting governor, she has to explain what's wrong with him. Criticizing Fletcher's policies won't work because most GOPers agree with his policies. And, even though the governor embroiled himself in a hiring scandal and pardoned many of his senior staffers, focusing on his ethical lapses risks making her sound like the worst possible thing in a Republican primary: a Democrat.
As a result, Northup is walking a very fine line. She says that Fletcher's scandals have rendered him unelectable, but isn't dwelling much on whether he did anything wrong.
This strategy has its perils too. Besides requiring voters to digest a nuanced distinction, there's a good chance they will end up saying, "Sure, you'll win, but why exactly would we want you to?"
Written and compiled by staff writers and editors, GOVERNING View is an on-the-ground, and sometimes behind-the-scenes, look at the topics we're covering in print and online. From notes on what's up in statehouses, county courthouses and city halls, to encounters with people, places and things, GOVERNING View is a window into the side of state and local government you don't always see.