By ROGER ALFORD
Associated Press Writer
FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Gov. Ernie Fletcher, campaigning in the wake of a political scandal, spent nearly $3.5 million to win the GOP primary in his bid for re-election.
The heated race left Fletcher with just more than $23,500 on hand, according to records filed with the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance. Even so, Fletcher will go into the general election campaign against Democratic challenger Steve Beshear on equal financial footing.
Beshear, who spent just more than $1.8 million to win the Democratic nomination, finished the primary race with nearly $50,000 in the bank, though he also reported a $25,000 debt.
Fletcher, a first-term Republican governor, had to overcome a high-profile investigation into whether his administration illegally rewarded political supporters with protected state jobs.
Weakened by the nearly two-year probe, Fletcher faced stiff opposition from a former congresswoman and a wealthy businessman.
"We left nothing to chance," said campaign manager Marty Ryall, referring to the hefty primary election budget. "Our goal was to get through the primary without any debt, and we did that."
Fletcher was indicted last year on misdemeanor charges stemming from the hiring probe. Those charges were later dropped in a deal with prosecutors.
We've not seen any dampening of the enthusiasm for the governor's campaign or his financial support," Ryall said. "Our fundraising is going very well for the general election. We're pleased with that."
Fletcher easily defeated his two GOP challengers in the primary, former U.S. Rep. Anne Northup of Louisville and millionaire businessman Billy Harper of Paducah. Both candidates claimed during the campaign that Fletcher had been politically wounded by the investigation and couldn't win a second term.
Harper spent more than $6.1 million on his unsuccessful campaign, according to spending records filed with the Registry of Election Finance. The money, nearly all of which came from his own bank accounts, paid for nonstop political ads leading up to the May 22 primary election.
Northup spent nearly $1.9 million on her campaign, according to finance records filed Tuesday.
Louisville businessman Bruce Lunsford spent $6.6 million on his unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination. That included $5.7 million in personal loans to the campaign.
Former Lt. Gov. Steve Henry raised $1.6 million, and finished the Democratic campaign with a $420,000 balance. He listed debts ofjust more than $1 million.
House Speaker Jody Richards, another of the major Democratic candidates in the race, reported spending $653,000 on his campaign.
Beshear's fundraising skyrocketed in the final weeks of the primary race, with his campaign picking up more than $500,000 in contributions after May 10, according to his finance records. Fletcher picked up an additional $200,000 over the period.
Beshear spokesman Robert Kellar said the Democratic candidate's fundraising success in the final weeks of the primary campaign is a key indicator of his strength going into the general election.
"I think we'll be able to raise more than enough to compete with Ernie Fletcher," Kellar said.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)