- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 19, 2003

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) With eight Democrats and Republicans running for Kentucky governor, you'd think they would be bashing each other heading into next month's primaries.
Instead, they have ganged up on Gov. Paul E. Patton, the term-limited Democrat who dropped a plan to run for Senate after acknowledging that he cheated on his wife in an affair that has led to state and federal investigations into whether he misused his office to help or retaliate against his lover.
Democrats are distancing themselves from Mr. Patton, and Republicans are hoping they can win the governorship for the first time in 36 years, though the Republican front-runner is in court because his first choice as running mate was bounced by a judge because of residency problems.
It has all made for a rather jumbled campaign.
Political scientist Paul Blanchard predicts Mr. Patton will be less of a pariah to Democrats after the primary May 20.
"The major theme the Republicans will have in the fall is it's time for a change," said Mr. Blanchard, director of the Center for the Study of Kentucky History and Politics at Eastern Kentucky University. "Whoever the Democratic nominee is, there's going to have to be at least modest credit given for the accomplishments of the governor."
Whatever those accomplishments, Mr. Patton is persona non grata: A poll in February by the Louisville Courier-Journal newspaper gave him a 39 percent approval rating, lowest for a governor in the poll's history.
Mr. Patton was undone by his affair with nursing home owner Tina Connor. Charges that her construction company received favors from his administration and that her nursing home was targeted by state inspectors after she broke off the relationship are under investigation by the FBI and Kentucky Attorney General's Office.
A state ethics commission, which has civil jurisdiction, has filed conflict-of-interest charges against Mr. Patton, who has denied doing anything illegal.
Two of Mr. Patton's top aides are also under indictment for breaking campaign-finance laws in his 1995 race. Lt. Gov. Steve Henry planned to run for governor but dropped out after being sued by the government for what the government said was Medicare and Medicaid fraud.
With all this, Democratic candidates want nothing to do with the two-term governor.
Jody Richards, longtime speaker of the Kentucky House, tells audiences without being asked that "there has never been a hint of scandal" in his background. Attorney General Ben Chandler says he has conducted himself "with virtue" and honesty. The third major candidate, millionaire businessman Bruce Lunsford, assails "these characters in Frankfort" with the gusto of a Republican.
Mr. Patton refuses to lash back. "I'm not going to get into the debate over the governor's race. I'm not going to have any reaction. The press can make of it as they will," he said in an interview.
The Democratic nomination appears to be up for grabs: The February Courier-Journal poll showed Mr. Chandler leading the other candidates, but most voters were undecided.
There are four Republicans in the race, with U.S. Rep. Ernie Fletcher considered the front-runner.

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