In Fletcher's Absence, GOP Candidates Say He Can't Win 2nd Term

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Two Republican candidates for governor questioned Gov. Ernie Fletcher's ability to win a second term on Wednesday, each saying they could fare better against the Democratic nominee in the November election.

Former U.S. Rep. Anne Northup and Paducah businessman Billy Harper found little to disagree about during a forum with audience members at a downtown Louisville restaurant. Fletcher had planned to attend the one-hour forum but bowed out to speak at a funeral for an Army soldier killed in Iraq.

Harper said only he can attract Democratic voters in the fall election, while Northup said Fletcher has "no chance" to win and remains saddled by a hiring scandal.

"This is a person who ran on a single issue, to change the culture and the climate and the ethical behavior in Frankfort," Northup said. "The question for our party, is whether we want to have a standard-bearer who is going into the general election with these problems."

Fletcher has been criticized by Republicans and Democrats for pardoning his entire administration, except himself, after several officials or supporters were indicted in a state hiring investigation. They were charged with violating state hiring laws by appointing political supporters to protected state jobs. Fletcher himself was charged with three misdemeanors that eventually were dropped in a deal with prosecutors.

Harper has avoided criticizing the governor directly, but indicated that some voters may select Northup in the May 22 primary because they dislike Fletcher. Kentucky is one of three states electing a governor this year.

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