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McConnell Getting Involved In Gubernatorial Race

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Gov. Ernie Fletcher didn't get Mitch
McConnell's blessing in the spring primary, but he'll soon get a
campaign boost from the influential Republican senator.
McConnell, the Senate minority leader, said Monday he expects to
spend part of the August congressional recess campaigning in
Kentucky for Fletcher, who is trying to rebound from his one-time
indictment in a hiring scandal that ended with a negotiated deal
with prosecutors.
The Republican governor, who is seeking a second term, is being
challenged in the Nov. 6 election by Democrat Steve Beshear, a
former lieutenant governor and attorney general.
McConnell, who refused to make an endorsement in the three-way
GOP gubernatorial primary in the spring and late last year wouldn't
comment on Fletcher's performance as governor, was upbeat Monday
about the governor's prospects against Beshear.
In a conference call with Kentucky reporters, McConnell said
he's had conversations with Fletcher since the May primary to
discuss strategy.
"I think the governor's campaign has come along nicely, and I
think he has an excellent chance of winning," said McConnell, a
key strategist behind the Republican rise to power in Kentucky even
though Democrats hold a clear registration advantage.
Besides the governorship, Republicans hold both of Kentucky's
U.S. Senate seats and four of its six U.S. House seats as well as
the state Senate.
McConnell didn't announce any campaign events for Fletcher in
August.
Fletcher's campaign said Monday that McConnell is scheduled to
attend three fundraisers for the governor in late August in
Lexington, Louisville and Owensboro.
Fletcher campaign manager Marty Ryall said the campaign hoped to
schedule other joint appearances with McConnell during the
congressional recess in August.
McConnell's support for Fletcher, which began after the primary,
came after months in which the senator was tightlipped about the
governor and Fletcher's political prospects.
Beshear spokeswoman Vicki Glass said Monday "it would be
interesting to know what, in McConnell's mind, changed between now
and one year ago when he wouldn't even utter Fletcher's name." She
referred to Fletcher as "the same indicted governor" who
"pleaded the Fifth and pardoned his political cronies."
Glass was referring to the hiring scandal in which Fletcher's
administration was accused of illegally rewarding political
supporters with state jobs.
A special grand jury indicted Fletcher on three misdemeanors
that later were dropped as part of a negotiated deal with
prosecutors. Fletcher, who said the probe was politically
motivated, issued a blanket pardon for everyone in his
administration, other than himself, who could have faced charges
stemming from the investigation. A subsequent grand jury report
claimed Fletcher oversaw a "widespread and coordinated plan" to
avoid state hiring laws.
Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the
University of Virginia, said McConnell's active support for
Fletcher in the fall campaign was a political necessity for the
senator to ensure Republicans are united behind him when he runs
for re-election in 2008.
"McConnell knows that at least until November his bread is
buttered on the side of Ernie Fletcher," Sabato said Monday by
telephone.
The hiring scandal would give McConnell a "built-in excuse" if
Fletcher loses in spite of his active support, Sabato said.
While McConnell looks to be a "considerable favorite" for
re-election next year, Sabato said, "he has got to be worried at
least a little bit about the possibility of a GOP bloodbath" in
November 2008, due to the unpopularity of the Iraq war.
McConnell has been the lead Senate Republican in support of
President Bush's war policy, including the troop buildup this year.
Ryall said he wasn't concerned about an anti-war backlash hurting
Fletcher because of his association with McConnell.
"This race is going to be driven by state issues," he said.
Ryall said that Fletcher and McConnell have spoken every other
week or so since the primary, and he expects the frequency of those
talks to increase closer to the election.
"His insights are always helpful to us," Ryall said of
McConnell.

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


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