Democrat Miller Dropping Out Of Governor Race; Endorsing Beshear

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - State Treasurer Jonathan Miller dropped
out of the gubernatorial race Monday, citing sagging poll numbers,
dwindling campaign cash and the prospect of the crowded field
producing a nominee that was "unelectable" in the fall.
Miller, who then endorsed former Lt. Gov. Steve Beshear, said he
made the decision after consulting his wife, Lisa, and running
mate, Jefferson County Attorney Irv Maze.
"The odds are if I stayed in the race that there was a real
possibility that the Democratic primary could produce a nominee who
was unelectable in the fall - a nominee whose baggage would be
picked apart and exploited," Miller said at an afternoon news
conference with Beshear.
Seven Democrats are on the ballot for May 22 primary as the
party tries to unseat the first Republican governor in three
decades. The others are Lexington attorney Gatewood Galbraith,
former Lt. Gov. Steve Henry, demolition contractor Otis Hensley
Jr., Louisville businessman Bruce Lunsford and House Speaker Jody
Miller's withdrawal comes too late to have his name removed from
the ballot. Instead, a notice will be posted at each polling place.
Despite holding a statewide office for two terms, Miller had
been struggling to overcome low name recognition among voters. A
poll by The Courier-Journal in February found that barely more than
a quarter of those polled knew who he was.
On the Republican side, Gov. Ernie Fletcher faces western
Kentucky businessman Billy Harper and former U.S. Rep. Anne Northup
in the primary.
Fletcher drew the opponents from his own party after he was
indicted on charges that he improperly awarded protected civil
service jobs to political supporters. The charges were eventually
dropped in a settlement with prosecutors.
While Fletcher maintained there was no wrongdoing, a grand
jury's report determined Fletcher had approved a "widespread and
coordinated plan" to skirt state hiring laws.
In his campaign, Miller has said Democratic voters need to
choose a nominee who can beat Fletcher in November, and billed
himself as "the candidate without the baggage."
Miller acknowledged Monday he was referring to Henry and
Lunsford when he said the eventual nominee might have "baggage"
that would be exploited by Republicans.
Henry has long denied any wrongdoing but in 2003 agreed to pay
the government $162,000 to settle allegations that he defrauded
Medicare and Medicaid.
Lunsford founded the Fortune 500 company Vencor, which operated
nursing homes and long-term-care hospitals before falling into
bankruptcy in 1999. In 2003, he sought the Democratic nomination
for governor before dropping out late in the race and throwing his
support to Fletcher, the GOP nominee.
Lunsford said Monday he was sorry to see Miller drop out.
"As the campaign enters the last two weeks of the primary, we
are focused on winning the governors office back for the
Democrats," Lunsford said. "Our goal from the beginning has been
to build a campaign that can win in November."
Treasurer for two terms, Miller used the post to be a vocal
consumer advocate, and has testified before the Senate banking
committee about financial literacy and the threat credit card debt
poses to college students. He was prohibited by term limits from
running for re-election.
Miller's campaign contributions for his gubernatorial bid were
in the ballpark with other candidates. He had raised a little more
than $1 million, but had only about $186,000 cash on hand at the
end of the last campaign finance reporting period, according to
records filed with the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance.
His withdrawal Monday left other Democrats hoping to win over
Miller's voters.
House Speaker Jody Richards thought that some of Miller's
supporters might now get behind his campaign, spokeswoman Jennifer
Brislin said.
"We think this positions us pretty strongly," Brislin said.
"We expect a lot of the people who endorsed Miller to now endorse
us - we feel that we'll pick up a lot of those supporters."
But Galbraith said Miller's exit "was not unanticipated" and
he thought he'd be picking up votes, too. Galbraith said he and
Miller shared a platform aimed at reform in government.
"I think that we're going to get the majority of his supporters
into our camp," Galbraith said.
Beshear, the son of a small-town Baptist preacher, has built his
campaign around a proposal to legalize casino gambling in Kentucky
to generate tax revenue that he says can be used to pay for
education and health care.
Beshear said casino gambling could generate $500 million a year
in additional tax revenue, and that if he's elected governor he
would to use his bully pulpit to prod the General Assembly into
putting the proposal on the ballot.
Beshear's resume includes stints as a state legislator and
attorney general. But his last two campaigns ended in defeat - he
ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for governor in
1987 and lost to Republican Mitch McConnell in the 1996 Senate
Beshear's running mate, state Sen. Daniel Mongiardo of Hazard,
built up considerable name recognition in his unsuccessful run
against U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning in 2004.
As a candidate for governor, Miller said he had new ideas that
will help the state and bolster citizens' confidence in state
government. He called for universal health care, expanded
prescription drug coverage for senior citizens.
Like Beshear, Miller supports expanded gambling to help finance
his plans.
The Beshear campaign is also getting support from the state's largest newspaper. The Louisville Courier-Journal is backing Beshear saying he could move the state in a new direction. The paper also endorsed Republican Anne Northup instead of backing Incumbent Ernie Fletcher.
The Courier says Northup has a strong resume.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

AP-NY-05-07-07 1614EDT

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