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Fast-Moving Candidates Reach Finish Line of Primary Campaign

By BRUCE SCHREINER
Associated Press Writer

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - All the campaign bus tours and rallies are over. Now it's up to Kentucky voters to whittle the long list of candidates running for governor.

Gov. Ernie Fletcher, whose term was hampered by an investigation of his administration's hiring practices, sought renomination Tuesday against two Republican challengers, while six Democrats competed for their party's nomination.

Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. local time.

Voters had plenty of down-the-ticket choices as they selected nominees for attorney general, state treasurer, secretary of state and agriculture commissioner.

One overriding question was whether the nominating process for governor would go into overtime. If no gubernatorial hopeful gets at least 40 percent of the primary vote, a runoff between the top two vote-getters will occur five weeks later on June 26.

About a dozen people voted in Floyd County in eastern Kentucky during the first hour after polls opened.

Some said they voted for hometown candidate Greg Stumbo, a Democrat running for lieutenant governor on a ticket with Bruce Lunsford.

"He's an old hometown boy and I've known him for years," said Kelly Moore, 62, of Prestonsburg. "Lunsford, I'm sure he's a nice guy. I just don't know him as well, but I know Greg can do a good job."

Only one minor problem with voting was reported early Tuesday, said Les Fugate, spokesman for the secretary of state, who oversees elections. A voter in Kenton County reported that a machine wasn't working properly, Fugate said. County Clerk Rodney Eldridge said the problem was determined to be "operator error."

Secretary of State Trey Grayson had predicted 85 percent of Kentucky's registered voters won't bother to go the polls. Fugate was optimistic Monday that turnout could be slightly higher than earlier forecast, noting an upswing in absentee balloting statewide in the past week.

Kentuckians won't have the weather as an excuse for not turning out to vote. Forecasters predicted mostly sunny conditions statewide Tuesday with highs in the 80s.

Scott Lasley, a political scientist at Western Kentucky University, said the campaign had been "surprisingly lackadaisical," considering the drama of a seemingly vulnerable incumbent facing a strong challenge within his party, plus a competitive race among Democrats.

Joe Gershtenson, director of the Center for Kentucky History and Politics at Eastern Kentucky University, agreed, saying, "For whatever reason, it just has not seemed to have gotten the public really excited."

In the Republican primary, Fletcher's rivals are former U.S. Rep. Anne Northup and Paducah businessman Billy Harper, his finance chairman in the 2003 campaign.

The challengers claimed Fletcher was irreparably harmed by his indictment last year on charges that he illegally rewarded political supporters with state jobs.

The charges were dismissed in a negotiated agreement with prosecutors.

Fletcher has maintained the special grand jury's investigation was politically motivated. He claims that Stumbo, the current attorney general, pursued the charges for political gain.

Fletcher led in a recent statewide poll in The Courier-Journal of Louisville.

The governor said it was a reflection that voters are looking past the investigation.

"People realize the true mark of leadership is results, and we've gotten outstanding results," Fletcher said Monday between stops during a multi-city fly-around of Kentucky.

Fletcher said he was hopeful of a clear-cut victory without a runoff.

Northup, who campaigned in heavily Republican areas of rural Kentucky Monday before a rally in Louisville, her hometown, said she would tap into dissatisfaction with Fletcher.

"I feel like there's still a lot of people that haven't made up their minds, but they don't want Ernie Fletcher," she said.

Harper, who logged 42,000 miles on his campaign bus in recent months, had stops in GOP-leaning cities in southeastern and southern Kentucky before winding up on election eve in Paducah in far western Kentucky. Harper waged an extensive television campaign that started last year, bankrolling most of his campaign himself.

Meanwhile, the Democratic primary might not produce a nominee but simply narrow the field.

Lunsford said a runoff in the Democratic race seemed a likelihood. Still, he said many voters were undecided or not totally committed to a candidate.

"I think there's an awful lot of soft support out there," Lunsford said while campaigning in Henderson and Owensboro in western Kentucky. "That means they can still change their mind late, which could have an impact."

Another Democratic candidate, Steve Beshear, a former lieutenant governor and attorney general, said that avoiding a runoff as "certainly a possibility."

"We're going to end up in the lead and be in the lead substantially tomorrow," said Beshear. "I think the only open question is whether we can get to that 40 percent."

The Louisville newspaper's recent poll showed Beshear with an apparent lead. Other Democrats running are House Speaker Jody Richards, former Lt. Gov. Steve Henry, Lexington lawyer Gatewood Galbraith and eastern Kentucky demolition contractor Otis Hensley Jr.

State Treasurer Jonathan Miller dropped out of the Democratic governor's race and endorsed Beshear. Miller's withdrawal came too late to have his name removed from the ballot, and voters will instead be notified at each polling place of his absence.

Richards continued his focus on western Kentucky as he spent Monday campaigning in Warren County, his home, and neighboring counties.

"Clearly we need western Kentucky to turn out big," Richards spokeswoman Jennifer Brislin said. "That's going to be what pulls us into a runoff."

Henry made more than a half-dozen stops during a campaign swing Monday. His spokesman, Matthew Tungate, said Henry's message "resonates around the commonwealth."

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Associated Press Writer Samira Jafari contributed to this report from Prestonsburg.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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