LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher faced the
prospect of a challenge from a one-time colleague Thursday when
Anne Northup's former top aide said the ex-congresswoman from
Louisville "is on the verge" of entering this year's race for
Terry Carmack, Northup's chief of staff during her five terms in
Congress, said Northup is being urged by Republicans statewide to
run because they think Fletcher cannot win re-election.
"Because of strong encouragement from around the state, Anne
Northup is on the verge of announcing her candidacy for governor,"
Carmack told The Associated Press. "I fully expect that she will
Carmack said Northup - a longtime President Bush ally who lost
her seat in the November election - is among Republicans worried
that Fletcher is too politically vulnerable to defeat a Democratic
"She's worried that if there's not an alternative to the
current governor, we will automatically lose in November," he
Carmack said he expected Northup to make an announcement
sometime next week.
Northup underwent routine arthroscopic knee surgery Wednesday at
a Louisville hospital, and her recovery will determine when she
makes an announcement, he said.
U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, the state's most powerful Republican,
said he wouldn't endorse anyone in the Republican primary, but
added that Northup would be "a formidable opponent."
"She would be a candidate who could win both in May and
November," McConnell said Thursday in a teleconference with
Kentucky reporters. "I think it would be a very interesting
contest if it develops."
Fletcher's term has been marred by an investigation into whether
his administration illegally rewarded political supporters with
state jobs after he took office.
The governor maintained the investigation was politically
motivated and gave a blanket pardon in 2005 to anyone except
himself who could be charged in the probe.
A Franklin County special grand jury indicted Fletcher on
misdemeanor charges that were eventually dropped last year in a
deal with prosecutors. The grand jury's report found that Fletcher
had approved a "widespread and coordinated plan" to skirt state
Fletcher said he welcomed "anyone that wants to run" and
referred reporters' questions to Marty Ryall, his campaign manager.
"We're pressing forward. I'm focusing on running this state and
we're doing a darn good job of it," Fletcher said.
Ryall said Northup's possible entry into the race "doesn't
change what we're doing."
"It's a great democracy that we live in and anyone that's
willing to offer themselves to the voters should be able to do
so," he said.
During the campaign, Fletcher will continue to tout his
accomplishments as governor, Ryall said. Some of the
accomplishments Fletcher has promoted include overhauling Medicaid
and increasing jobs.
"I'm confident that anyone getting into the race against
Governor Fletcher is going to have an uphill battle," Ryall said.
Northup and Fletcher served together in Congress until
Fletcher's election as governor in 2003.
Fletcher, the first Republican elected Kentucky governor in a
generation, already is facing a challenge from Paducah businessman
Billy Harper. Harper has spent more than $2 million of his own
money for a TV campaign to raise his name recognition.
Stan Pulliam, Harper's campaign manager, said a Northup
candidacy would not "change the race at all for us."
"She was from one of the most highly populated districts in the
state and was not able to win," Pulliam said. "Billy likes Anne
and appreciates her service to Kentucky, but we think it's
important to continue to have a Republican in Frankfort and we
believe that he is the only candidate that can win in November."
Harper would still be the only GOP candidate without a career in
politics, Pulliam said.
Lt. Gov. Steve Pence, who dropped off Fletcher's re-election
ticket last year, said he would not run for governor if Northup
entered the race. Pence, a former federal prosecutor from
Louisville, said Northup used to represent the congressional
district in which he lives.
"She's going to be a great candidate," Pence said, although he
said he was not yet making any endorsements. "I'm sure it's going
to encourage a lot of Republicans and energize a lot of
Northup, a prolific fundraiser and tenacious campaigner, was
defeated by Democrat John Yarmuth last November in the
Louisville-area 3rd District. Northup had defeated a string of
challengers over the years, but the unpopularity of Bush and the
Iraq war in the Democratic-leaning district contributed to her
defeat in an election that gave Democrats control of Congress.
Northup was a state representative for nine years before her
election to Congress.
"She has real ideas about where she would want to take this
state," Carmack said. "She believes that we can do better."
State Rep. James Comer, R-Tompkinsville, said people in his
solidly Republican district in southern Kentucky generally know of
Northup but don't know much about her.
"From what I know about Anne Northup, they would probably like
her," Comer said, adding that with the "right running mate," she
would fare well in rural Kentucky.
Comer suggested that Northup consider a running mate with strong
conservative credentials from a non-suburban area.
He said Fletcher still has a support base among Republicans to
go with the advantage of incumbency.
"The governor has a lot of prominent people that support him
and are going to stick with him in the primary," he said. "I
think there are a good number of people that are still undecided."
Henderson County Republican Alan Taylor, a member of the state
GOP executive committee, said he would support Northup, but said
"she's got work to do in western Kentucky" - where she isn't
nearly as well known as in the populous Louisville area - where
she's virtually a household name.
But Taylor said that with a strong grassroots network, Northup
could run well in western Kentucky.
He said some GOP executive committee members still support
Fletcher, but others worry about the long-term impact of the hiring
"His electability is a question mark for a lot of us," Taylor
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)