Bob Gable, Frankfort resident and longtime Republican leader, said he will support Republican challenger Anne Northup because he doesnt think Gov. Ernie Fletcher can win the general election.
"The events of the past three years have put (Fletcher) in such a deep hole that he cannot climb out," Gable said.
Gable gave the opening remarks at a press conference in the Capitol mezzanine immediately after Northup signed the necessary papers and officially declared her candidacy for governor. Gable is currently a member of the Franklin County Republican Party executive committee and served as chairman of the state Republican Party for seven years.
"For much of my life I have worked on the front lines of the Republican Party," Gable said.
After the press conference, Gable showed reporters an envelope that he said contained $2,000, which he planned to donate to Northups campaign. Gable and his wife can each give a maximum of $1,000 to a candidate during the primary. He plans to play a supporting role in Northups campaign as it progresses, he said.
"If I can find the right person, I hope to be the first donor," Gable said.
Northup served 10 years in the U.S. House of Representatives before she was defeated by Democratic challenger John Yarmuth in November. She said she is running for governor because she wants to provide Kentucky with the leadership to realize its full potential.
"The people of Kentucky deserve an alternative to our current governor," she said.
Her running mate, House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, said he is honored to work with Northup.
"I look forward to the campaign," he said.
Fletcher gave a press conference later in the afternoon to discuss developments in the Bullitt County train wreck and a school bus crash in Grant County. However, reporters bombarded him with questions regarding Northups decision to run for governor. Fletcher said he has always welcomed anyone into the race who wants to run.
He also said a lively primary would show that the Republican Party is maturing. Finally, Fletcher said he plans to run a vigorous campaign and focus on presenting his achievements to the public.
"Weve turned deficits into a surplus and created jobs," he said.
Paducah businessman and one-time Fletcher ally Billy Harper has also filed papers seeking the Republican nomination. In a press release, he said Northups announcement shows politicians still dont understand that citizens want a substantial change in leadership.
"Im the only candidate talking about the need to take money out of pork and put it into schools and tax cuts," Harper said. "Kentucky can do better."
Frankfort lawyer Larry Forgy defended Fletcher and denounced Northup. At the same time, he welcomed Northups challenge and said defeating her will give Fletcher momentum when he enters the general election.
"Without a significant opponent, Fletcher comes out flat-footed in the general election," Forgy said. "In my judgment, this elevates him, although it might force him to spend some money in the primary."
He also attacked Northup, saying she has little appeal outside of Louisville, and is running a one-dimensional campaign.
"She is better known in Clark County, Indiana, than she is in Clark County, Kentucky," Forgy said.
Assistant Professor Joe Gershtenson, director of the Center for Kentucky History and Politics at Eastern Kentucky University, said Northups announcement has created a historic situation. He said serious opposition in Republican primaries is a rarity.
"Especially if there is a female contender, which adds another dimension to the picture," Gershtenson said. "In the historic context, this is a very unique situation."
Because she held onto her congressional seat for a decade in Louisville, which is heavily Democratic, Gershtenson said Northup has proven she will be competitive in the race for governor.
"She presents a real challenge," he said.
On the other hand, Gershtenson said Fletcher is not out of the fight because he has raised more than $1.6 million so far. Fletcher also recently hired an experienced campaign manager.
"Its dangerous to say the governor should be written off," Gershtenson said. "Thats not the case at all. Were looking at an honest-to-goodness battle."