By John David Dyche
This column very rarely agrees with liberal MSNBC personality Rachel Maddow. But she is right about Kentucky state auditor Adam Edelen.
Maddow recently raved about Edelen after his Fancy Farm picnic speech. She compared his political talent to that of another Southern Democrat, Bill Clinton.
Praise from Maddow may not help Edelen in Kentucky. He can overcome her support where it actually hurts him.
Edelen is clearly the best orator on Kentucky’s current political scene. He has also done a darned good job as auditor. His accomplishments in office are many in number and significant in nature.
With current agriculture commissioner James Comer’s cooperation, Edelen did a bipartisan investigation of former agriculture commissioner Richie Farmer, a folk hero from his basketball days.The result was prison time for Farmer and restitution for taxpayers.
Edelen has examined public school districts large and small. His work put a corrupt official in prison, improved administrative and governance practices, and freed up taxpayer funds to actually educate students.
Among his other accomplishments Edelen also recommended improvements in the state’s Medicaid managed care system, brought more accountability and transparency to Kentucky’s extensive and expensive “ghost government” of special districts, and took action on the scandal of untested rape kits.
Edelen’s is one of the strongest records of getting things done and good government reform that Kentucky has seen in a long time. So he should be a shoo-in for reelection, right? Uh, no.
A Bluegrass Poll (which has in the past oversampled certain liberals) in late July put Edelen’s race in a virtual tie. He was ahead of his Republican challenger, state representative Mike Harmon of Danville, 35 percent to 31 percent, with 30 percent undecided and a margin of error of plus or minus 3.8 percent.
A survey in late June by Public Policy Polling, which is often called "Democratic-leaning," had Harmon ahead 39 percent to 33 percent, with 27 percent not sure and a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percent. Recent events may be affecting the race in Edelen’s favor, however.
Harmon’s campaign manager, Jesse Benton, resigned after being indicted on federal charges. The indictment alleges a bribery scheme to get an endorsement for then-presidential candidate Ron Paul in Iowa in 2012.
Benton was believed by many to be running Harmon’s auditor bid to block Edelen from challenging Ron Paul’s son, current Kentucky Senator and presidential candidate Rand Paul, for Senate reelection next year.
And, as CN2’s Kevin Wheatley recently reported, a super PAC called Kentuckians for Honesty in Government is spending in support of Edelen in the auditor race (although such spending would inevitably have a carryover effect in next year’s Senate contest).
Winning reelection as auditor is absolutely essential to any Edelen ambitions for Senate. Lots of Democrats (and some others) were disappointed that Edelen opted against seeking the governorship this year, but a Senate bid next year would explain his decision.
If he makes such a race there are indications that in addition to emphasizing his protection of the public pocketbook Edelen will also position himself to the right of the libertarian, non-interventionist Paul on national security. It isn’t that hard to do, and could pay electoral dividends in pro-military Kentucky.
The longer Paul is preoccupied with his longshot presidential bid the more it helps Edelen (and other potential Democratic rivals, like Louisville mayor Greg Fischer, perhaps). Recent press reports about Paul campaigning for President in Alaska and missing multiple opportunities to press the flesh in his home state are causing considerable queasiness in GOP ranks.
Republicans who respect Edelen, and there are many, wish he was not so consistently and unnecessarily hostile toward them. Given that Democrats have not won a Senate race in Kentucky since 1992, Edelen will need friends among Republicans and Democrats who vote Republican in federal races if he does challenge Paul.
Nonetheless, at Fancy Farm Edelen lambasted Republicans. "Kicking half a million Kentuckians off the insurance rolls with the stroke of a pen is callous and it's not Christian," Edelen said. Turning to Republicans on the stage, he continued, "Maybe this side of the aisle should put down the books of Ayn Rand and pick up the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John."
That is pretty harsh stuff for someone running a general election campaign and anticipating another. Edelen could have made the same point without alienating potential GOP supporters.
For example, he could have said, “We Democrats are proud of what Governor Beshear did in expanding Medicaid. Some of the best and smartest Republican governors around the country agreed with us. They expanded Medicaid in their states, too.
"They recognized, like we did, that it was not only a good thing to help the poor like the Good Book teaches, but it also made economic sense. When we can honor our Christian values, help people who need a hand, and protect the taxpayers at the same time, everybody wins!"
A 2016 Senate bid is shaping up well for Edelen, but he still has some hard work to do in winning reelection as auditor. It will help him in both if he stops attacking Republicans.
(John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney and a political commentator for WDRB.com. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jddyche.)
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