Kentucky Democrats Wait on Lunsford

Posted January 18, 2008 at 6:17pm

One week before the state’s Jan. 29 filing deadline, some Democrats in Kentucky and in Washington, D.C., are still holding out hope that 2007 gubernatorial candidate Bruce Lunsford will throw his hat into the Democratic Senate race.

Lunsford, a former state commerce secretary and a wealthy health care executive, would bring a level of name recognition that would immediately put him out in front of the four other Democrats who have already said they will vie for their party’s nomination and the right to take on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

“I think he’s going to do it and if I were a betting man I’d bet on him to run,” Achim Bergmann, Lunsford’s friend and former campaign manager, said on Friday.

But Bergmann said that with Lunsford set to be in Utah this week where he will be showing two films he helped finance at the Sundance Film Festival, a decision likely will not come until on or just before Jan. 29.

It should be noted that Lunsford wasn’t the first person that state and national Democrats looked to when trying to find a candidate that could go up against the buzz saw that is McConnell’s campaign machine — which took in $1.5 million in the third quarter of last year and at last report led Republican Senators facing re-election with $6.8 million in cash on hand.

Last fall, 6th district Rep. Ben Chandler’s name was at the top of Democratic wish lists for the Senate race. Then came former state Attorney General Greg Stumbo (D) and state Auditor Crit Luallen (D) and even recently elected Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo (D).

The reason Lunsford wasn’t the first pick might be because he hasn’t always been universally loved by Kentucky Democrats. He earned the ire of many party officials when, after he dropped out of the gubernatorial race in 2003, he went on to endorse the Republican candidate, Ernie Fletcher, over Chandler after a contentious primary battle.

But Lunsford appeared to redeem himself in the 2007 gubernatorial election when, after again dropping his bid, he quickly moved to back now-Gov. Steve Beshear (D).

For now, the two leading Democratic candidates in the Senate race would be considered longshots against McConnell.

Andrew Horne (D) is a retired Marine officer who in 2006 was highly touted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee before he lost a House primary race to now-Rep. John Yarmuth (D) in the 3rd district.

Greg Fischer (D) is a wealthy businessman who announced his intention to run last week. But Fischer’s campaign hit a stumbling block as it got out of the gate. On Friday, The (Louisville) Courier-Journal reported that the head of the Jefferson County Republican Party had filed a Federal Election Commission complaint claiming that Fischer improperly used resources from the company he heads to launch his campaign.

Fischer’s campaign dismissed the charges and called the complaint a publicity stunt, according to The Courier-Journal.

Democratic leaders are not shy about expressing their hope that Lunsford will file for the race, but some say Horne or Fischer could be strong as well.

“I think Bruce Lunsford showed during the gubernatorial race that he is a formidable candidate and if he decides to challenge Mitch McConnell he would be someone to watch,” said Jennifer Moore, chairwoman of the Kentucky Democratic Party. However, “Andrew Horne and Greg Fischer are very strong candidates and we are confident that whoever emerges from the Democratic primary, we are going to defeat Mitch McConnell come this fall.”

National Republican Senatorial Committee spokeswoman Rebecca Fisher said she hasn’t been impressed by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s recruiting efforts in Kentucky, especially after the Democrats and several liberal interest groups spent much of the summer and fall blasting McConnell in television and radio ads in the Bluegrass State.

“Democrats have spent more than a year blustering about posing a strong challenge to [McConnell], and this is the best they could come up with?” she said.

Fisher pointed to a recently released poll by Voter/Consumer Research as evidence of the strength of the Minority Leader’s position.

That survey, which was commissioned by McConnell’s campaign and based on 600 interviews, found that the Minority Leader’s job-approval rating had increased from 57 percent in October to 61 percent as of early January. It also found that Stumbo would have been McConnell’s toughest challenger but that he still would have lost by 10 points in a hypothetical matchup.

The survey found McConnell beating Lunsford by 15 percent, Fischer by 22 percent and Horne by 23 percent.

DSCC spokesman Matt Miller was critical of that survey and dismissed its findings.

“In the past two months, Mitch McConnell has spent nearly a million dollars on television to prop up his sagging numbers and has now released a poll that is so off the mark that it can be best described as fraudulent,” Miller said. “He’s in trouble, and there will be a strong Democratic nominee to hold his feet to the fire.”

Voter/Consumer Research president Jan van Lohuizen suggested Friday afternoon that DSCC officials should release their own polling numbers if they don’t believe his company’s findings.

“Let me suggest that the DSCC look at its own polling to see why its first-, second- and third-choice candidates refused to run” against McConnell, van Lohuizen said.

The DSCC “may not like the results [of the Voter/Consumer Research survey], but that doesn’t mean that they are wrong,” said McConnell’s chief of staff, Billy Piper.