Low Turnout as Fletcher, Challengers Seek Fall Ballot Spots

By The Associated Press

After months of campaigning and ads, voters went to the polls Tuesday to decide if Gov. Ernie Fletcher would be renominated without a runoff and to choose among a half-dozen Democrats seeking to challenge the embattled Republican incumbent.

Around the state, voter turnout was light, said Les Fugate, a spokesman for the Kentucky Secretary of State's office in Frankfort. Secretary of State Trey Grayson had predicted 15 percent turnout. Fugate said lines at the polls may grow longer once people leave work for the day.

"Voter turnout always increases at the end of the day, so we expect it to increase," Fugate said.

Fletcher, whose term was hampered by an investigation of his administration's hiring practices, faced a pair of 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.

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.

At Rosa Parks Elementary School in Lexington, Sree Kesaraju, 38, a 12-year state employee in the Environmental and Public Protection Cabinet, voted former Lt. Gov. Steve Beshear in the Democratic primary. It was Kesaraju's second election since becoming an American citizen.

"The employees of the state government, they don't get any pay raises or anything like that so I thought maybe the Democratic Party can get pay some raises for the state," Kesaraju said.

Bill Morgan, a 54-year-old tire store owner in Lexington, backed former U.S. Rep. Anne Northup because of what he called "constant bickering and fighting" in government.

"It was a combination of a number of things. Organization in state government, that's what I want. I want an efficient, lean, mean fighting machine," said Morgan, who voted at Immanuel Baptist Church in Lexington.

Don Perry, 68, a retiree, voted for Fletcher. Perry said Fletcher has been good for Kentucky, despite the hiring investigation.

"He's in there. He's had some, like any politician there is always some dirt kicked up. Whether he was at the bottom of it or the top of it, I don't know. But I do know a good house cleaning now and then bringing stuff to the table is good," Perry said.

In western Kentucky, James Clines, 70, a retired factory worker from Cave City, said he voted for Fletcher.

"I'm satisfied with the way he's running the state. I can't tell he's done anything wrong," Clines said.

Another Republican, Francine Strode, a 75-year-old retired restaurateur and former owner of a Dairy Queen, opted for Northup.

"I think she has good moral principles," Strode said.

Alvin Herron, 94, said he planned to cast his ballot for House Speaker Jody Richards, a Democrat from Bowling Green, who was running for governor with former Secretary of State John Y. Brown III.

"He's a local boy. He probably won't win, but I am going to vote for him," Herron said.

About a dozen people voted at the courthouse 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."

There were a few minor problems reported. The polling location at the Fayette County mall didn't open on time. And there have been reports that notices on Jonathan Miller's withdrawal were not posted at sites in Pulaski, Lee, Perry and Floyd counties. Fugate said the clerks in those counties said that they had posted the notices all along.

In Kenton County in northern Kentucky, County Clerk Rodney Eldridge said "operator error" caused one machine to malfunction. Nore Ghibaudy, a spokesman for the Jefferson County Clerk's office, said there had been no problems at midday at the 282 polling places in the state's most populous county.

"It's gone very smoothly," Ghibaudy said. "We've had a steady flow throughout the day."

In the Republican primary, Fletcher's rivals are 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.

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

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