FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Gov. Ernie Fletcher's first campaign commercial this year compares the investigation of his administration's hiring practices to being confronted by schoolyard bullies and proclaims that he never flinched and ultimately won.
The 60-second spot debuting Tuesday says Fletcher stayed focused on his job during the legal turmoil overshadowing much of his term. The ad boasts of a strong economy, a budget surplus, more roads and tax breaks during the governor's tenure.
The message is that in spite of "the most vicious negative attacks, the governor worked through it all, kept his eye on the ball and continued to do his job," Fletcher campaign manager Marty Ryall said Monday in previewing the ad.
Even before reaching the airwaves, the ad drew quick criticism from another campaign. A senior adviser to former five-term U.S. Rep. Anne Northup of Louisville, one of Fletcher's rivals in the Republican primary, said the governor was trying to "play the `pity card"' and called it an insult to voters.
"Since he has never taken responsibility for the transgressions of his administration, his campaign theme should be, `The buck doesn't stop here," Northup adviser Ted Jackson said. "He takes credit for everything and responsibility for nothing."
The Fletcher commercial will run for a week to 10 days on network television in the Louisville, Lexington and Bowling Green media markets and on cable nearly everywhere else in Kentucky, Ryall said.
The initial Fletcher ad comes in what's shaping up as a high-spending and potentially hard-hitting race for the GOP nomination for governor. Ryall said Fletcher will continue to have a "consistent presence on the airwaves."
Fletcher's challengers in the May 22 primary are Northup and Paducah businessman Billy Harper, who has been running ads for months.
Four years ago, Fletcher ran for governor promising to "clean up the mess" in Frankfort - a reference to scandals under Democratic administrations.
Now he's hoping to overcome the legal problems threatening his political career. His challengers insist he's been too wounded politically to win another term.
The governor was indicted last year on charges that he illegally rewarded political supporters with protected state jobs. The indictment was dismissed in a deal with prosecutors, but a special grand jury later issued its findings in the case, saying Fletcher had approved a "widespread and coordinated plan" to skirt state hiring laws.
Fletcher's commercial opens by showing schoolyard bullies shouting at a book-toting youth who keeps his head up and walks through the group unharmed - an apparent reference to the hiring probe. A narrator says, "Day after day he took it, didn't flinch because fighting is not his way. But he got where he was going. He held his head high. So in his own determined way, he won."
Ryall wouldn't say who the young bullies represent. "We'll leave that to the viewers' interpretation," he said.
The ad later shows Fletcher at work in his Capitol office and boasts of accomplishments on a range of issues during his tenure. Later, in another reference to the probe, the narrator says, "It's behind us now, and Kentucky's a better place because Ernie came out with his head held high and Kentucky won."
Harper, who was Fletcher's finance chairman in 2003, has run TV ads since last October to introduce himself to voters. The spots stressed his support for education and opposition to pork spending and the state alternative minimum tax on businesses.
Stan Pulliam, Harper's campaign manager, said Monday that Fletcher was trying to define himself to voters. He added that it won't be an easy task.
"We firmly believe that the governor is not electable in November, so he does have a lot of work to do," Pulliam said.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved