Gov. Ernie Fletcher stopped off at the Flea Land Flea Market in London Saturday morning in a last bid for re-election.

FRANKFORT — Gov. Ernie Fletcher took at least one step out of the political grave to which he had been consigned by critics and pundits, winning the Republican primary over two challenges, Anne Northup and Billy Harper, surprising many by garnering 51 percent of the vote.

He survived a scandal which saw him indicted three times for alleged state hiring abuses and now he’s survived a challenge in his own Republican Party primary. Given his political prospects just a year ago, Fletcher’s win is a remarkable comeback — although he faces a tough battle against a Democrat in the fall election.

As supporters chanted “four more years, four more years,” Fletcher beamed at the podium at his Lexington victory party.

“Well, I guess we’ve answered the electability question,” Fletcher deadpanned, referring to Northup’s contention Fletcher cannot win in November.

"If you run for re-election, talking about the issues, talking about the vision, talking about what you’ve done for Kentuckians, that you can win,” Fletcher said.

Campaigns, he said, can be about the issues and vision for the future. He then went on to recite his standard campaign stump speech, claiming to have turned deficits into surpluses and that Kentucky is healthier now than it was four years ago. Fletcher is a physician by training. He also tried to welcome Northup’s and Harper’s support in November – perhaps a challenge after a divisive primary but one he’ll need to accomplish to defeat Steve Beshear, his likely Democratic opponent this fall.

Northup, who garnered just under 38 percent of the vote, conceded around 9 p.m. She said she called Fletcher and offered him congratulations.

“I know he will go on to make a good nominee and a good leader and go onto November with broad support across this state,” Northup said.

Jeff Hoover, Northup's running mate, said the Republican Party “family has spoken today and we accept what the party has said.”

Shortly after Northup conceded, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, thought by many to have encouraged challenges to Fletcher, issued a statement which read: “Kentucky Republicans have spoken, and it is now time for our party to stand united behind Gov. Fletcher and work to ensure his re-election in November. He has my full support and I look forward to working with him to move Kentucky forward.”

Fletcher rolled up votes in the Old Fifth District, in counties like Laurel, Whitley and Rockcastle, and won his home base of Fayette County easily. But it was in rural Kentucky where he piled up margins which Northup couldn’t over come with her strength in her home territory of Jefferson County. Harper, who spent millions of his own money, was never able to capture the imagination of voters.

Fletcher also did well in the three key northern Kentucky counties of Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties where Northup was endorsed by Republican U.S. Senator Jim Bunning. But the endorsement didn’t help. Fletcher beat Northup nearly 3 to 1 in Bunning’s home Campbell County.

In Laurel County, where Fletcher was backed by state Sen. Tom Jensen, party chairman Warren Scoville and the entire party organization, the incumbent governor won 62.2 percent of the vote with 3,345 votes to Northup’s 1,208 votes or 22.5 percent. Fletcher also easily won Republican strongholds where he has devoted time and money such as Whitley and Rockcastle counties where he won 62 percent of the vote.

Northup, as she hoped, easily won Jefferson County, taking about two-thirds of the vote, but the total vote wasn’t as much as she needed to offset Fletcher’s strength in rural Kentucky. Jefferson County’s turnout was only about 24 percent and she had hoped to get at least to 30 percent.

She had a surprise victory in Monroe County where she won 53 percent of the vote. That may have been affected by a controversial local issue involving relatives of some key Fletcher supporters. Fletcher got 89 percent of the vote in Monroe County in 2003 general election. She won other southeastern counties of Wayne and Clinton counties, areas where her running mate is well known or has family connection.

Harper finished a distant third with just under 14 percent.

Now Fletcher will face his ultimate challenge, and part of that will be whether the party can unite after a divisive primary. He must defeat a Democrat —Beshear, who captured just over 41 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff (with 95 percent of precincts reporting at press time) in a state which, although trending Republican in recent years, has a majority of registered Democrats. Four years ago, 125,000 of those Democrats voted for Fletcher who promised to “clean up the mess in Frankfort.” This time, it will be Fletcher who is plagued by scandal.

Beshear is likely to campaign against Fletcher on the same themes Fletcher ran on in 2003 when he defeated Ben Chandler.

In other constitutional races in the Republican primary, Stan Lee won the attorney general’s race and Richie Farmer won the race for the Republican nomination for agriculture commissioner. Linda Greenwell was unopposed for auditor and incumbent Secretary of State Trey Grayson was unopposed. At press time, Melinda Wheeler and Lonnie Napier were locked in a virtual dead heat for the Republican nomination for treasurer with 92 percent of the precincts reporting. At that time, Napier had a three-vote lead.

React to this story:


This Week's Circulars