By BERRY CRAIG
I’m an old reporter. So I know it’s unwise to argue with folks who buy their ink in barrels.
But Lexington Herald-Leader scribe Larry Dale Keeling is tad off base in his column about the recent gubernatorial candidate debate–or forum, or whatever—that starred Democrat Jack Conway, Republican Matt Bevin and independent Drew Curtis.
I don’t know who Keeling plans to vote for. But in the interest of full disclosure, Jack Conway is my candidate. So feel free to malign my musings as partisan palaver or wishful thinking, or a combination thereof.
Anyway, I’m with Keeling when he called the three-way matchup a “gubernatorial Q&A.” He couldn’t bring himself to call it a “debate.”
It wasn’t. A debate is what Lincoln and Douglas did in 1858.
One hundred and fifty seven years hence, what passes for candidate “debates” – presidential, gubernatorial, senatorial, you name it – are more like simultaneous press conferences.
In addition, Keeling wrote that as he viewed the “Q&A” he “began to wonder how many Kentucky Democrats/Republicans also watching the first televised forum featuring all three candidates might be saying to themselves, ‘Gee, I wish Drew Curtis headed up our party’s ticket.’”
Here’s where I part company with the Fourth Estate gent.
I’m a union card-carrying Democrat. I don’t wish for a nanosecond that Curtis topped my party’s ticket. I couldn’t be happier that Jack Conway does.
He just might turn out to be the most pro-union governor in Kentucky history.
Conway was my candidate from the start. I was glad the Kentucky State AFL-CIO endorsed him even before the filing deadline last January.
Okay, after I finished with Keeling’s column – I often read his musings — I conducted an admittedly unscientific poll among some of my Democratic friends. Some of them belong to unions and others don’t.
They’re all sticking with Conway.
One of them called Curtis “a likeable flake, like Gatewood.” He meant the late Gatewood Galbraith, the perennial third party-independent candidate for whatever office was up for election.
Like Galbraith, Curtis is a gadfly whose politics are hard to peg.
Anyway, Keeling also wrote, “Whatever the reason, Curtis came across as the candidate most comfortable in his own skin, the candidate who answered every question without bobbing and weaving and the candidate quickest on his mental feet to call his opponents to task when they did bob and weave.”
The reason seems pretty obvious to me. Like Galbraith, Curtis doesn’t have to carefully choose his words. So what he if flubs? Hogs will fly before he gets elected.
So third party or independent candidates can say whatever they want. Knowing you’re a sure-fire loser is a great way to get comfy in your own hide on the stump.
In addition, Keeling claimed, “Independents almost always draw votes from the middle of the political spectrum. Curtis is no exception. So, their respective parties’ bases become all the more important to Bevin and Conway. And that’s problematic for Conway.”
History, the subject I taught for two dozen years in a community college, suggests that third party candidates mostly draw from the political fringes.
Moderates tend to be pretty practical voters. They’re not prone to cast protest votes.
Anyway, go ahead and accuse me of whistling past the graveyard. But I suspect Curtis is more Bevin’s bane than Conway’s.
The last Bluegrass Poll, taken in July before Curtis got in the race, had Conway up 45-42 with 13 percent undecided. With Curtis as a candidate, the spread was Conway 43, Bevin 38, Curtis 8 and the rest undecided.
So Curtis subtracted two percent from Conway and four percent from Bevin—advantage Conway, at least so far.
Who knows what the next Bluegrass Poll will show? But it wouldn’t surprise me if the survey reveals Curtis is still siphoning more support from Bevin than from Conway.
Said Keeling: “Although Bevin reportedly has ignored the Republican Party’s establishment and structure during this campaign, the hatred of President Barack Obama is as strong in Kentucky as it is anywhere in the country. So, the anti-Democrat turnout in November is assured.”
Keeling may be right. But a lot of Bluegrass State citizens—nearly all of them, not coincidentally, white folks–despised the president in 2011, too. Even so, Democrat Steve Beshear got reelected in a landslide over Republican David Williams who worked overtime to tie the governor to the president. (Bevin is trying to make “Conway” and “Obama” synonyms.)
Like Williams, Bevin is an uber-conservative union-buster who is about as cuddly as a porcupine.
Added Keeling: “…Conway’s reluctance to act in the Kim Davis case has to temper enthusiasm for him among the more liberal elements of the Democratic base. And they are the voters he can least afford to have stay home come Election Day.”
“Temper enthusiasm?” If Conway is “reluctant,” Bevin is pandering full-bore to the bigots of the Jesus-loves-me-but-He-can’t-stand-you persuasion over “the Kim Davis case” – “circus” is more accurate.
In any event, liberals are pretty practical, too, especially those in Red States like the Bluegrass State. That’s also true of those few of us who are left of liberal. We all understand realpolitik.
We are keenly aware that a vote for Curtis amounts to a vote for Bevin because it’s a vote Conway would have otherwise gotten. Curtis won’t fare well among us on Nov. 3.
If there is tempered enthusiasm among liberals, it’s likely to be transitory. The prospect of Bevin the tea party-tilting, John Birch Society-cozying reactionary moving into the governor’s mansion is by itself more than enough incentive to get liberals to the polls.
Meanwhile, I’ve yet to hear any Democrat declare, “Gee, I wish Drew Curtis headed up our party’s ticket.”