FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Gov. Steve Beshear was accused of snubbing President Barack Obama when the president visited Fort Campbell earlier this year to meet the Navy SEAL team that killed Osama bin Laden.
But internal emails obtained by The Associated Press show that
Beshear was the one who received a cold shoulder during Obama's
visit to the Army post on the Kentucky-Tennessee line: The governor
One of Beshear's closest advisers, Katie Dailinger, had quizzed
the governor's secretary, Sally Flynn, in an email on May 6, the
day of the Obama visit, asking if she had received an invitation
for the governor from the White House.
"No," Flynn responded. "I didn't."
Flynn then sent a follow up, asking if some other Beshear
staffer had received such an invitation.
"Not that any of us can tell," Dailinger replied in an email
exchange the AP obtained under the state's open record law.
A White House official confirmed that Beshear wasn't invited.
The governor, now running for re-election, was mum about that,
despite a barrage of criticism from political opponents and
pundits. But in Kentucky, where Obama is widely unpopular, Beshear
stood to improve his clout with voters by not refuting the
perception that he had snubbed the president, even though critics
were trying to paint him as unpatriotic and his staffers were
worried about the fallout.
University of Kentucky political scientist Ernie Yanarella said
the political storm was great for Beshear because it created the
appearance of a rift between him and Obama.
"The governor benefited most from what happened," Yanarella
Some in Beshear's administration were worried that the fallout
would be politically damaging.
"Let's hope this calms down," Beshear's chief speech writer,
Dan Hassert, said in an email the day of the visit.
Such hopes were dashed in following days with Beshear being
sharply criticized on talk radio, in the press and by political
"This was Obama's first visit to Kentucky and it seems, given
the circumstances of his visit, that Beshear could've altered his
plans to stand beside Obama," the Daily News of Bowling Green said
in an editorial at the time. "He chose not to and the reason seems
quite simple: re-election considerations."
The Lexington Herald-Leader said "we'd hate to think politics
played a part in Gov. Steve Beshear's snubbing of the president."
But, the newspaper went on to say, "maybe an incumbent Democrat,
up for re-election in a red state didn't want to remind Kentuckians
that his is indeed the party of Obama,"
Republican gubernatorial opponent David Williams seized on
Beshear's absence, too, suggesting in stump speeches that the
Kentucky governor had essentially put his re-election campaign
ahead of country.
Beshear was entertaining chief executive officers at the famed
horse track Churchill Downs while Obama was at Fort Campbell. Those
CEOs, the governor's office said, were interested in creating jobs
"Steve Beshear went to a horse race because he was worried
about his own race," Williams said at the time.
In emails related to the Obama visit, reporters peppered Beshear
spokeswoman Kerri Richardson with questions centering on whether
the governor had snubbed the commander in chief. Richardson
responded that Beshear had learned of the presidential visit only
36 hours before it was to occur, and that he couldn't rearrange his
schedule on such short notice.
`"While we tried to juggle the schedule so the governor could
be in both places, we simply couldn't work it out," Richardson
said in emails to reporters.
Louisville NAACP President Raoul Cuningham accused Beshear of
"And I think the governor needs to hope that African-Americans
will not play hide-and-seek on him this election as he has played
on the president," Cunningham told reporters at the time.
Although he has visited Kentucky only once since his election,
Obama is a central figure in Kentucky's governor's race. Williams
and other Republicans wield his name like a club, a campaign
strategy that they hope can chip away at Beshear's 20 point lead in
the polls. Obama lost Kentucky big in 2008, and polls show he
hasn't improved his popularity since then.
In one of the emails, Mika Rothman, a staffer in the White House
office of intergovernmental affairs, notified Beshear's Washington
liaison, Rebecca Byers, that the president would be at Fort
Campbell "to address service members who have recently returned
from deployment." That email included no invitation. Such
notifications are sent to elected leaders in any state that the
president is visiting.
Richardson declined to comment on the reason why Beshear or his
staffers didn't publicly disclose at the time that he hadn't been
invited. That disclosure came only after the internal emails were
turned over to AP.
"To the best of our knowledge, no elected officials were
invited to participate in the president's visit to Fort Campbell,"
she acknowledged in a statement.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)