By John Dyche
Belatedly, Kentucky Republicans just had their annual Lincoln Day dinner. If the GOP is going to hold its gala in June they should consider calling it an Eisenhower Day dinner instead. That great Republican's D-Day leadership creates at least some connection to the month.
The party faithful emerged with four goals. First, win the June 25 special election for the vacant 56th district state House of Representatives seat.
Republicans are mounting a major effort for nominee Lyen Crews. Divided opposition makes this a real pick-up possibility for Republicans, now a 54-45 minority.
Second, reelect U. S. Senator Mitch McConnell next year. Democrats have yet to convince someone serious to be the sacrificial lamb against McConnell, who has already raised over $13 million.
Third, capture the state House of Representatives majority in 2014. Democrats will use redistricting to defend their endangered dominance, but rightward registration trends mean that a GOP-controlled House is merely a matter of time.
Fourth, win the governorship in 2015. This is the most formidable challenge of the four.
Of the forty Kentucky governors since the GOP's 1854 founding, only eight have been Republicans. That total includes William Taylor, who served for less than two months before being ousted in the aftermath of William Goebel's murder in 1899.
There have been only two Republican governors since 1947, and only one since 1971. That Republican, Ernie Fletcher, made mistakes, many due to the party's extended exodus from power, which enabled Democratic partisan Greg Stumbo, then attorney general, to destroy the administration by pursuing politically motivated prosecutions.
Democrats have several credible prospective contenders. Former auditor Crit Luallen, her successor Adam Edelen, Attorney General Jack Conway, Lieutenant Governor Jerry Abramson, and Stumbo, now the Speaker of the House, could each mount a good race.
Three names are most often mentioned on the Republican side: Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, Second District U. S. Representative Brett Guthrie, and businessman Phil Moffett.
Comer won big in 2011, cleaned up the mess left by his predecessor, the disgraced Richie Farmer, and has won bipartisan backing for his efforts to boost industrial hemp. He is popular among his former colleagues in the state House and has obvious political talent.
But Comer must soon show his mastery of the broader range of non-agricultural issues a governor faces. His office has seen some worrisome turnover, too, including the abrupt departure of longtime McConnell aide Larry Cox who left just a month after being appointed deputy commissioner.
Comer recently caught heat for his role in, and comments about, a controversial loan the Kentucky Agriculture Finance Corp. gave a company that turns power plant waste into sulfur fertilizer. In a gubernatorial race he will also have to explain his votes for lavish legislative pensions and his acceptance of federal farm subsidies.
Guthrie has the brains and background to be a strong candidate, but so did Fletcher. Seemingly content in Congress, Guthrie is not sending out any signals that he is seriously contemplating a gubernatorial campaign. He may prefer waiting in Washington for a U. S. Senate seat to open, which could be 2016 if Rand Paul runs for President, rather than trying to return to Frankfort.
Moffett ran for governor last time around and gave then state Senator David Williams a surprisingly strong primary challenge. He is identified with the Tea Party to the extent he is known at all and would have to expand his base, demonstrate issue expertise, and dramatically improve his name recognition.
Other names are bandied about, but nobody is really galvanizing the GOP. Some say there is plenty of time, but for a party that has performed as poorly as Kentucky Republicans in gubernatorial politics it may actually be getting late.
For Republicans, waiting much longer to gear up for a governor's race would be like putting off a Lincoln Day dinner from February to June. It can be done, but is a bad idea.
John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney and political commentator for WDRB.com. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.