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Louisville ex-congresswoman tries to build statewide name ID

JOE BIESK
Associated Press

11 months 27 days 10 hours ago |103 Views | | | Email | Print

FRANKFORT -- Well known in Louisville, which she represented in Congress for a decade, Anne Northup will have to extend her name recognition beyond the city's borders if she hopes to unseat Gov. Ernie Fletcher in the GOP primary, political observers say.
To that end, Northup and her running mate, state Rep. Jeff Hoover of Jamestown, spent part of last week crisscrossing Kentucky, from Paducah in the west to Ashland and Hazard in the east. Her campaign also had stops in Bowling Green and northern Kentucky.
"There's always a lot to learn about different parts of the state," Northup said at one stop.
Northup filed last week to run against Fletcher and wealthy businessman Billy Harper of Paducah for the GOP nomination. Northup and Harper both say allegations that Fletcher's administration handed out protected state jobs to political supporters have left him too politically vulnerable for November success.
Unlike in her last race -- which hinged on national issues such as President Bush and the Iraq war -- Northup will have to address a different set of issues, such as whether Kentucky should expand casino gambling or how to create new jobs.
Northup's efforts, however, may be complicated by a GOP primary in which partisan voters may split over her challenging a sitting governor.
Top Republican Party officials have not publicly endorsed either candidate.
U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, the state's leading Republican, has called Northup "a formidable opponent" but said he won't endorse anyone in the GOP primary. U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning has declined to endorse Fletcher's re-election bid.
"It doesn't make sense for me that the Republican Party will not come together and support a sitting Republican governor," said Paducah Mayor Bill Paxton, a Fletcher supporter.
The last Jefferson County politician elected governor was Democrat Lawrence W. Wetherby in 1951. Before that, it was Republican Augustus Willson, who served as governor from 1907 to 1911.
Bill Stone, a prominent Louisville Republican, said he thinks Fletcher will be hard to beat in the primary and that Northup's background could serve as a detriment to her across the state.
"If Abraham Lincoln ran as an East Louisville suburbanite, it wouldn't be 100 percent positive even for him," he said. "I don't think it's a statewide political advantage."
In early campaign stops, Northup has claimed that Fletcher has been so weakened politically by a state hiring investigation that he cannot win against a Democrat in November.
Since May 2005, Fletcher has been under the cloud of allegations his administration improperly steered protected state jobs to political supporters. Fletcher pardoned his entire administration during the height of the investigation.
A Franklin County special grand jury eventually indicted Fletcher on misdemeanor charges stemming from the probe. The charges, however, were subsequently dropped in a deal with prosecutors. A grand jury report released later found Fletcher had approved a "widespread and coordinated plan" to skirt hiring laws.
"As a Republican and as a Kentuckian, I'm answering this call to service because our party and the people all across Kentucky deserve an alternative to the current governor," Northup said at a news conference last week.
Rick Robinson, a GOP strategist from northern Kentucky and a former congressional aide to now-U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning, said he thought the geographical factor favors Northup, who comes from the state's largest city.
Northup's base lies in Louisville's 3rd District, which elected her to Congress five times. As of Jan. 16, the district had 150,945 -- out of about 1 million statewide -- registered Republicans. When Northup lost her congressional seat in November, she collected 116,568 votes to Democrat John Yarmuth's 122,489.
Larry Forgy, a former Republican gubernatorial nominee and a staunch Fletcher supporter, said some of Northup's congressional votes could hurt her.
"She's wrong on the issues and wrong on the geography," Forgy said. "She's better known in Floyd County, Indiana (across the river from Louisville) than she is in Floyd County, Kentucky."
Paxton said Northup is largely unknown in western Kentucky.
"People have heard the name, but I don't think they know a whole lot about Anne Northup," Paxton said.
Still, having Hoover on the ticket would help Northup, said state Rep. Bill Farmer, R-Lexington.
"Anne's going to play really well to the urban areas of the state, and I think Jeff Hoover will play very well to the more rural parts of the state and more outlying parts of the state," Farmer said.
Northup's experience in Congress coupled with Fletcher's troubles gives the former congresswoman "a good chance" of winning in the primary, said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.
"It's not as though she's starting out cold. She's reasonably well known across the state from her time in Congress," Sabato said. "Ernie Fletcher will create most of her vote for her. There are undoubtedly Republicans who are loyal to Fletcher, but a fair amount of Republicans actually want to win in November."

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