Senate 2008 Guru: Following the Races

Keeping a close eye on developments in the 2008 U.S. Senate races

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The 2008 Democratic Senate Primary in Kentucky

Republican Mitch McConnell faces an incredibly tough re-election bid. He suffers from notoriously lagging approval ratings, myriad scandals, and a record of partisan-fueled obstructionism. A majority of Kentuckians disagree with Mitch McConnell on Iraq.

And, in an environment in which some in government, including George W. Bush and presumptive 2008 GOP presidential nominee John McCain, decry the use and abuse of budget earmarks, McConnell's one selling point to Kentucky is the porkbarrel spending he secures via earmarks - which draws the ire of conservative groups whose support McConnell can no longer count on.

Democrats also enjoy the momentum generated by the Beshear-Mongiardo ticket's 2007 gubernatorial win over the corrupt administration of Ernie Fletcher, for whom Mitch McConnell went to bat on several occasions.

In a nutshell, Mitch McConnell is quite vulnerable.

So who do the Democrats have to take him out? Eight Democrats filed for the Democratic primary before the January 29th filing deadline. I don't mean to be dismissive, but four of the eight names you will probably hear little about: Kenneth Stepp, James Rice, David Wylie, and David Williams (not the same-named Republican president of the Kentucky state senate). I'll certainly do my best to keep readers attuned to significant news from any of these candidates, but I'm not anticipating much.

A fifth name, Dr. Michael Cassaro, is likely to be an also-ran, as well; although, he is reportedly putting $2 million from his personal wealth into his campaign. While money alone, as you will read later in this analysis, isn't the determining factor, perhaps that will do something to raise his name ID.

The Democratic primary will likely be dominated by three candidates: former state Secretary of Commerce and two-time gubernatorial candidate Bruce Lunsford, businessman Greg Fischer, and Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Horne. Lunsford is best known for his two Democratic primary defeats for Governor; Fischer is best known for his company's invention of the ice & beverage dispenser used by many fast food and other restaurants; Horne is best known for his 2006 Congressional campaign in Kentucky's 3rd district.

Horne announced in mid-December and Fischer announced in mid-January. Lunsford announced on the last day of filing for the race. Both Horne and Fischer released online videos introducing themselves upon their campaign entrance announcements:

Both from their videos and their websites (Horne, Fischer), I get the distinct impression that Lt. Col. Horne has a much clearer vision for why he is running for Senate, compared to Fischer.

Horne’s website has an issues section that touches on the economy, education, health care, Iraq, etc. Fischer’s site has no issues section.

In his introductory video, Horne discusses his personal, civilian-professional, and military background. He discusses personal motivations, from his wife’s health care battles to a desire to keep jobs from being shipped overseas to Mitch McConnell’s failed leadership. Horne even seems ready right now to take on McConnell in a debate with such zingers as “Senator Mitch McConnell is more than part of the problem; he is the problem,” “Simply put, while Mitch McConnell carries George Bush’s water on Iraq, I carried a rifle in Iraq,” and “This campaign is about you, not the lobbyists and political insiders; Mitch McConnell has forgotten that.”

In Fischer’s video, he highlights his business background and “outsider” status, but I simply don’t get a sense of what he is passionate about.

While Fischer has only been in the race a month, Election Day is less than nine months away, and primary day is even sooner – Fischer needs to do a better job of explaining why he’s running. I’m left with the distinct impression that, since Fischer has the capability of self-funding a significant portion of his campaign, he expected that his checkbook would lead him to the Democratic nomination. That will likely not be the case, especially considering Bruce Lunsford (and his ostensibly even larger checkbook) entered the race just before the filing deadline.

In his two failed gubernatorial bids, Lunsford spent about $14 million, and failed to win the Democratic primary either time. Nevertheless, it appears that Lunsford has the inside track on insider support, reportedly receiving the tacit encouragement of Governor Steve Beshear as well as national Democratic leaders in Washington DC, ostensibly because Lunsford has the most money to put into the race. There are two major flaws in that logic though. First, if Lunsford’s money couldn’t win him a statewide primary in two tries, there’s no overwhelming reason to believe his money will put him over the top in both a primary and a general against an exceedingly well-funded McConnell this time around. Second, depending on how much McConnell’s eventual Democratic opponent loans his campaign, by virtue of the “Millionaire’s Amendment,” McConnell will be able to increase the limits on how much he can take in from his contributors, further increasing his campaign war chest.

Additional concerns exist with Lunsford’s commitment to Democratic Party ideals. Lunsford has a very long history of political campaign contributions to Republican candidates and committees, including $1,000 to Mitch McConnell in 1993 and another $250 to McConnell in 1999. On top of that, after his failed 2003 gubernatorial primary bid, Lunsford endorsed the Republican nominee over the Democratic nominee – that Republican was corrupt Ernie Fletcher. I don't readily see how Lunsford answers the question from Mitch McConnell, "How is it that you can contribute to my campaign on one day, support my Party and my candidates one day, and then turn on me and my Party the next day?"

At this stage, Fischer and Lunsford both have as their task at hand to explain how their campaigns represent more than just checkbooks – why they're running and how their campaigns promote Democratic ideals. Of course, McConnell will be well-funded, but that alone does not win campaigns. In 2006, we saw a number of Republican incumbents significantly outspend Democratic challengers in losing efforts. Democrats Claire McCaskill and Jon Tester saw Republicans Jim Talent and Conrad Burns spend twice as much as they did, respectively. George Allen’s spending tripled Jim Webb’s. And Rick Santorum outspent Bob Casey by over $10 million. Those four Republicans lost despite enormous financial advantages.

This is not an endorsement at this stage, by any means. But, right now, Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Horne appears to be the strongest Democratic challenger to take on Mitch McConnell and question McConnell’s shameful record before the voters of Kentucky. I encourage you to view his campaign introductory video again and visit his website.


Blogger Media Czech said...

I couldn't agree more, great analysis.

9:56 PM, February 10, 2008  
Blogger Pam said...

I'd say Lunsford is the real also-ran. Don't count Cassaro out. He's the only one who can run as an outsider that doesn't owe anyone any political favors.

Health care is a big issue. He's a doctor and he's got some pretty good ideas.

3:09 PM, February 17, 2008  

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