Yesterday's election tells us a number of things.
On the Democratic side, the story was the more-decisive-than-expected win for Steve Beshear and the poorer-than-expected performance of Bruce Lunsford. In fact, the only thing Lunsford seemed to have going for him was Greg Stumbo. Someone (I thought it was the Board of Elections, but I can no longer find it) printed a color-coded county-by-county map of the Democratic results. A whole section of eastern Kentucky was Lunsford yellow, with only 4 or 5 yellow counties outside the region. Stumbo delivered his home territory, and that was about all. Stumbo also had the best victory speech of the night, with the possible exception of Jeff Hoover.
On the Republican side, several observations:
1. Fletcher is no longer unelectable. The opening line of his otherwise lackluster victory speech (will someone please get the man a speech writer?) said it all: "I guess we've settled the electability question." No one who beats McConnell in Kentucky Republican politics is unelectable, and that is what he did. It's no big secret that McConnell was behind Northup's candidacy, and by beating Northup, Fletcher foiled McConnell's designs. Name another Kentucky politician who has managed the feat. And just as importantly, he exceeded expectations, one of the best things you can do in politics.
2. The so-called "scandal" is old news. The new news is that Beshear is a liberal. This, it would seem, will be the competing messages is the fall: from the Beshear campaign that Fletcher is corrupt, and from the Fletcher campaign that Beshear is a liberal. Odds are that more people will believe (and care about) the latter than the former. The primary damage the hiring scandal did to Fletcher was to create the general perception of incompetence: that he was neither a good politician nor a good adminstrator. It also hurt that Stumbo clearly won the PR war, and no one likes a loser. Fletcher's ads during the primary didn't help this impression. People don't like a milquetoast who walks away from a fight. They want a champion. Fletcher needs to drop the commercials with the silly schoolboy who walks away from the bullies. Make one instead in which he turns around and decks a couple of them. People like to see the good guys win, not walk away from the contest.
3. The new news won't be news unless Fletcher makes it news. The common wisdom on election night was that Fletcher would hammer the social issues this fall, and, at least this time, the common wisdom was probably right. Beshear's record provides the Fletcher campaign with a wealth of ammunition for a battle on social issues. From the Ten Commandments to the abortion issue, the Fletcher campaign can't but be rubbing its hands. But the liberal pundits overestimate Fletcher's willingness to embrace conservative social issues. He has, in fact, always been reluctant to do so. Reluctance in this case could cost him dearly. This, by the way is one reason why the casino gambling issue, which helped Beshear in the primary, might backfire on him this fall. If Fletcher plays it right, he can turn the casino gambling issue around on Beshear by making it one more piece of evidence in the larger picture of a liberal Democratic candidate.
4. Fletcher needs a rallying cry. Let's hope Fletcher's victory speech was not an indication of the themes he intends to strike this fall. It was uninspiring and devoid of any meaningful themes. Fletcher needs to give his supporters a cause they can fight for, and vague and meaningless pronouncements on education aren't going to do it. Social issues, once again, fit the bill.
5. Thank you, Stan Lee. I spoke this morning with David Hawpe, editorials editor of the Louisville Courier-Journal. He pointed out that Stan Lee's win was "the best thing that could have happened to both of us" (meaning me, the conservative, and him, the liberal). Lee, he presumably meant, was the candidate conservatives loved best, and the candidate liberals loved best to hate. That race, he asserted, would determine whether Kentucky was more like I wanted to see it, or like he wanted to see it. I pointed out that, if it was more like I wanted to see it, then it might play into Stan Lee's hands for the Courier-Journal to paint Lee as an archconservative. "You may be right," he said. I made the point knowing, of course, that it wouldn't make any difference to the Quixotic liberal Hawpe. The CJ obviously doesn't care if it helps conservatives win by charging them with not being liberals. After all both the CJ and the Herald-Leader endorsed Northup over Fletcher, which probably did nothing to help Northup, and a whole lot to help Fletcher. Stan Lee's candidacy will also help Fletcher by putting conservative issues at the forefront.
6. Fletcher needs to listen to Larry Forgy. While Fletcher has a political tin ear, Forgy has one of the best political ears in Kentucky politics. He knows how to appeal to social conservatives without sounding like an extremist. The best thing the Fletcher campaign can do is to follow his advice.