It's My Party and I'll Nominate Who I Want to

State Treasurer Jonathan Miller's decision to end his campaign for the Democratic nomination for governor of Kentucky simplified (slightly) a maddeningly complicated election. Democrats still ...
by | May 9, 2007

Dino_2 State Treasurer Jonathan Miller's decision to end his campaign for the Democratic nomination for governor of Kentucky simplified (slightly) a maddeningly complicated election. Democrats still running include two former lieutenant governors, two gadfly candidates, the speaker of the house and a rich businessman (possibly in a pear tree).

The decision also suggests an exciting possibility: That Democratic intraparty politics will soon be just as lively as Republican politics.

For years, the place for a good intraparty squabble has been in the GOP. "RINO" (Republican in Name Only) has become a common acronym in political parlance, as Republicans argue over who's a true conservative and who isn't. Groups such as the Club for Growth have intensified these tensions. The Club works against moderate Republicans even if, like former Rhode Island Senator Lincoln Chafee, they're a good fit for the constituency they represent.

"DINO" is much less common because Democrats, on the defensive for years, haven't often had the luxury to demand ideological purity. The question is whether the party's November victories and the GOP's continuing problems will change all that.

Miller's move is a sign that it might. In endorsing Steve Beshear, one of the former lieutenant governors, Miller cited philosophic compatibility. The subtext is that Miller perceives Beshear as being to the left of the other leading candidates, especially the rich businessman, Bruce Lunsford. In this way, Miller may have turned an amorphous election into an ideological struggle.

In truth, the beef some Democrats have with Lunsford is as much about loyalty as ideology. Lunsford has contributed money to President Bush, both of Kentucky's Republican U.S. senators, and both of the Republicans he might face in November: former Congresswoman Anne Northup and Governor Ernie Fletcher, who he endorsed in 2003.

Lunsford did work for a former Democratic governor and has stressed universal health care to try to win over skeptics. He also picked Attorney General Greg Stumbo, the man responsible for criminal investigations of the Fletcher administration, as his running mate.

Still, the question would seem to be whether Kentucky Democrats want the candidate who has been true to their cause (Beshear) or the candidate most likely to win in November (Lunsford). Would seem to be, but isn't.

The other reason Miller cited for endorsing Beshear is that he viewed the latter as the most electable Democrat. He cited the ethical baggage of Lunsford and of Steve Henry, the other former lieutenant governor. (The final well-known Democrat, House Speaker Jody Richards, has trailed badly in recent polls.)

In other words, Miller's tacit argument is something that I expect we'll hear more and more from partisan activists: that moderates aren't always the most electable candidates. Miller seems to be saying that it's honesty, vision and experience that matter to general election voters, not ideology. If Kentucky Democrats are ready to embrace that idea, they'll probably pick Beshear.

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

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