| Harry Truman, meet Kelly Whitaker, Democratic candidate for the Kentucky House of Representatives from the second district.
When the Bluegrass State GOP mailed out a flier linking her to “DEMOCRAT PARTY LEADERS” who “TRIED TO REMOVE ALL REFERENCES TO GOD FROM THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY’S NATIONAL PLATFORM EARLIER THIS YEAR,” the Baptist blasted back, Truman style.
“I am offended, first and foremost, because I am a Christian,” said Whitaker, a pharmacist in Mayfield, the Graves County seat. “I also think it is outrageous.”
For the record, the Democrats ended up putting “God” back in the platform, which already mentioned "faith and religion" and acknowledged the "thousands of God-fearing Democrats in this building here tonight."
In addition, the convention was started each day with prayer and faith-based panel discussions on topics including “loving our neighbor," "caring for the poor and those in need" and "being our brother's and sister's keeper."
Anyway, the mailer is stock stuff from the Bluegrass State GOP. For years, Republicans in Bible Belt Kentucky have been prone to imply, or say flat-out, that you can’t be a Christian and a Democrat.
Whitaker begs to differ.
Like most Kentucky Democrats, Whitaker is conservative on social issues but generally supports unions, public education and government programs to help people who need help.
A Graves County school board member who lives in Hickory, Whitaker is proud of her endorsements from the Kentucky State AFL-CIO and the Kentucky Education Association. She joined KEA, an affiliate of the National Education Association, after county voters elected her to the board.
Whitaker’s opponent, Mayfield business owner Richard Heath, is a tea party-tilting ultra-conservative. Heath is also a Baptist.
So was President Truman, who was famous for mixing it up with Republicans. Whitaker went after Heath face-to-face, taking him to task at a teachers’ retiree dinner where both of them spoke. Afterwards, she fired back in radio commercials.
Whitaker said Heath promised her he had nothing to do with the GOP flier and wouldn’t have sent it. The flier is marked “Paid for by the Republican Party of Kentucky.”
Whitaker and local Democrats find it hard to believe Heath didn’t know the mailer was coming. “He said they came from the party. But I told him that if he can’t stand up to his party now, he won’t be any good to us in Frankfort.”
Whitaker said Heath will be a rubber stamp for the Republican leadership in the state house.
Meanwhile, she thinks most Graves County voters, not just Democrats, are skeptical of Heath’s claim that he knew noting about the mailer. Though the county is mostly conservative, Democrats have a decided edge in voter registration.
“They’re not buying his line that he had nothing to do with these ads and they are also offended at the idea that you can’t be a Democrat and have moral values,” Whitaker said. “Even people who go to his church have told me they are offended.
“The Democratic Party is the party of compassion, the party that wants to help people in the most desperate need. That’s what Christ wants us to do.”
Meanwhile, polls show the race is close. But Whitaker may have the edge in the ground game. Union members and other supporters are wearing out shoe leather canvassing for her.
Another door-to-door effort is set for next Saturday. Volunteers are asked to meet at 9 a.m. at Graves County Democratic headquarters on the south side of the court square in Mayfield.
Whitaker’s Truman-like feistiness has not gone unnoticed by the state Democratic brass. House Democratic Floor Leader Rocky Adkins of Sandy Hook told her by phone that the state GOP is sending out similar attack fliers against Democrats statewide. “He also said I was the only one who had responded so far. But what else can you do? You have to respond."
Truman--whose vice president was Graves County native Alben Barkley--was famously nicknamed "Give 'em Hell Harry." "I never did give them [Republicans] hell," Truman protested. "I just told the truth, and they thought it was hell."
Whitaker is not given to salty language, so she might prefer “heck.” But she vows to keep the heat on Heath right up to Nov. 6 and Graves County Democrats are loving it.