Ronnie Ellis

Ronnie Ellis

IFRANKFORT, Ky. — The speeches were well crafted. The setting was carefully planned, with a Northup-Hoover banner and the state House of Representatives chamber as backdrop.

Anne Northup and Jeff Hoover said all the right things in just the right sound bites Wednesday as they announced their challenge to incumbent Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher and running Robbie Rudolph in the Republican primary. But if Northup backers hoped for an immediate sense of inevitability or a quick knockout, it didn’t happen.

The Northup folks had intimated there might be some prominent Republicans and upwards of 15 or 20 Republican state House members in attendance. Only five House members showed up. There were rumors her filing papers might include the signature of U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning or his wife, Mary, but they were signed by Northup and Hoover family members.

On Thursday, the campaign took off on a two-day “fly around” the state. Fewer than 20 people combined showed up in Ashland and Hazard. There were as many reporters as supporters in Hazard, located in Perry County where Democrats outnumber Republicans four to one.

Then 10 southern Kentucky Republican judge/executives, led by Mike Buchanon of Warren County, endorsed Fletcher, joining three from northern Kentucky who earlier endorsed the governor. Northup charged Fletcher has threatened local projects in those counties if Republican judges don’t endorse him, but Barren County Judge/Executive Davie Greer said her endorsement was generated by gratitude for what Fletcher has done in her county rather than anxiety about what he might not do.

Fletcher spoke Thursday to the Women’s Republican Club of Jefferson County, in Northup’s back yard, and several there said they were surprised by the warmth of his reception. One said Fletcher was greeted with “overwhelming enthusiasm.” Fletcher has gone out of his way to say nice things about Northup and he didn’t hide from reporters Wednesday afternoon. The normally politically inept Fletcher so far seems to be doing the right things.

There is potential irony to Northup’s challenge. Her sole campaign plank thus far is “he can’t win in November and we can.” But if Fletcher – with the power of incumbency and benefiting from a backlash from Republicans who see Northup’s challenge as backstabbing – should survive the primary, his stature and chances in November will be strengthened. Those Republicans who fear a primary dooms the winner’s chances in November should recall 1967 when Louie Nunn won a bitter, sometimes mean-spirited primary against Louisville’s Marlow Cook, and then went on that fall to become governor. The following year, Cook won election as U.S. Senator.

Fletcher’s still in serious trouble. Powerful Republicans support Northup, and many Republicans out in the state think he can’t be re-elected. Northup is smart, articulate and a fierce campaigner. Hoover is highly respected. Fletcher is prone to political ineptitude of grand proportions. But if anyone thought he would give up without a fight, early indications are he remains on his feet and is still swinging.

Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort, Ky. He may be reached by email at


This Week's Circulars