LOUISVILLE -- A defiant Gov. Ernie Fletcher, nearly a week after state Republican officials rebuffed his choice for the party's top committee, on Thursday challenged his GOP critics to a political duel.
Fletcher told his critics -- who have been mounting lately -- they should sign up for the 2007 governor's race if they don't think he can win.
"If folks want to be governor, let them do like I did when I wanted to be governor and do some things for the commonwealth. File and run," Fletcher said Thursday after a Kentucky State Police promotion ceremony in Louisville.
The comments came a day after Lt. Gov. Steve Pence, Fletcher's one-time running mate, said Fletcher's prospects for second term are bad unless he can quickly win support of the Kentucky Republican Party.
Pence said he was not trying to challenge Fletcher.
"My point was simply to say that the governor has a narrowing window of opportunity to reach out to the Republican leadership and get them on his team for '07. I don't think a defiant attitude is going to help him," Pence said. "There needs to be some attempt by the governor to reach out and demonstrate that he can heal his wounds and show he can win."
Fletcher called the disagreements among Republicans about his future "family differences" and said after an appearance at the Kentucky State Fair that state Republicans can be united by next fall's election.
"I've always constantly spoken about the party in terms that we need to be united," he said. "I've been working toward that constantly. ... It's the values that we share that hold us together. And those shared values are what the most important things are. It's not individual personalities."
Also, Secretary of State Trey Grayson, who is considering a run against Fletcher for the GOP nomination in 2007, said Fletcher should bow out.
Les Fugate, spokesman for Secretary of State Trey Grayson, said Thursday the governor's comments change nothing.
Fugate said Grayson still is strongly considering running for the Republican nomination, and Paducah businessman Billy Harper has already filed a notice of intent to run for governor.
Before entering the race, Fugate said Grayson has to lay the proper groundwork.
"If he has the right running mate and the right organization, then he plans to run," Fugate said.
Fletcher is under indictment on three misdemeanor charges of violating the state's Merit System hiring laws. He has pleaded not guilty, and a judge has ruled that the case cannot go forward while Fletcher is still in office.
Fletcher, who in 2003 became the state's first Republican governor in more than 30 years., Republicans leaders across the state, in recent months, have publicly expressed doubt about the governor's changes to win a second term. They include Senate President David Williams and Jefferson County Republican Party chairman Jack Richardson -- who have started to distance themselves from Fletcher.
On Saturday, Republican officials denied Fletcher's choice to put former GOP gubernatorial nominee Larry Forgy on the state party's executive committee. They instead chose Pence's chief of staff, Stephen Huffman.
Fletcher said Thursday his support for a re-election bid remains strong.
"We're going to continue to press forward. Across the state today, there's nothing but tremendous support out there," Fletcher said.