Beshear’s Role in Kentucky Senate Primary Debated

Posted September 28, 2009 at 6:23pm

It may seem like a rather simple thing, but in Kentucky’s Senate Democratic primary there continues to be some debate over when an endorsement is really an endorsement.

Earlier this spring, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear (D) endorsed his lieutenant governor, Dan Mongiardo, in the Senate race, but those Democrats supporting Attorney General Jack Conway (D) quickly downplayed that announcement, describing it as merely the fulfillment of a long-standing political commitment and therefore only a half-hearted gesture.

But questions about Mongiardo and Beshear’s relationship were raised again Monday evening when the Bluegrass political blog Page One Kentucky posted an audio recording of a man identified as Mongiardo saying he has “zero loyalties— to the governor and complaining that Beshear won’t “do a damn thing— to help fundraising. The man identified as Mongiardo bashed the governor.

“Apparently, Daniel has a lot of explaining to do to the governor and the people of Kentucky,— Conway spokesman Mark Riddle said.

“I’m not going to get into addressing some anonymously, clearly edited audiotape posted on the Internet,— Mongiardo spokesman Kim Geveden said Monday. “Let it be very clear: Daniel Mongiardo strongly supports this governor — supports him now and supports him for re-election in 2011. Daniel is proud to be his lieutenant governor and values their friendship.—

The dust-up comes just after Beshear finally made an appearance at a fundraiser in Northern Kentucky for Mongiardo last week, after the governor was absent from any of Mongiardo’s public campaign events throughout the summer and early fall. Mongiardo’s camp made sure to circulate multiple press releases and post a video of the governor heaping praise on his 2007 running mate. Geveden also said Beshear has two more appearances scheduled for Mongiardo before the end of the year.

“I’m sure you, as well as a lot of the other writers up there inside the Beltway, have been spun that, ‘Oh, the governor’s endorsement is a tepid thing,’ and so forth,— Geveden said last week. “Just check out the video.—

Still, Conway supporters continue to insist that the governor’s heart really isn’t in Mongiardo’s campaign.

The evidence, they say, lies in the attorney general’s big-name endorsements.

Included on that list are not only most top Democratic leaders in the state — including Reps. Ben Chandler and John Yarmuth and state Auditor Crit Luallen — but also members of the governor’s inner circle, such as the state secretary of finance and the man Beshear has picked as his 2011 running mate.

Beshear is clearly not requiring those closest to him to join in endorsing Mongiardo, Conway’s supporters say, so is he really doing everything he can for his lieutenant governor?

Consider the case of Jim Cauley, Beshear’s 2007 campaign manager and former chief of staff.

Cauley, who is now running a Louisville mayoral campaign, is a Conway donor, but Cauley said he checked with Beshear’s office before cutting his check to make sure he didn’t burn bridges with the governor.

“I made it clear to the governor’s office that I was going to give to Jack,— Cauley said. “I asked for some sort of direction from the governor’s office, and I got silence.—

For its part, Conway’s campaign seems to be letting the attorney general’s high-profile endorsement list speak for itself.

“We’re proud of the big-time endorsements we’ve had, and we feel well-positioned in this campaign,— spokesman Mark Riddle said Monday.

Riddle declined to get into some of the charges Mongiardo’s camp has made about how Conway supporters have tried to spin Beshear’s endorsement.

Conway “is a candidate, but first and foremost he’s the attorney general, and he’s doing his job and doing that job well.—

The focus on Conway’s work as attorney general has been a key theme of his campaign, even more so over the past two months after Conway earned some negative backlash for a somewhat controversial speech at the state’s annual Fancy Farm picnic and political rally.

Mongiardo’s camp was able to make some political hay over Conway using profanity during a speech in which he tried to paint himself as a tough campaigner, and the lieutenant governor’s campaign continues to play up the gaffe.

“Conway’s not actively campaigning as much. He’s more focusing on doing his job, nose-to-the-grindstone kind of approach,— said Joel Turner, a political scientist at Western Kentucky University. “On some level, Conway is trying to be careful because he wants Fancy Farm to be out of the news. I’m sure he wants that to die.—

Geveden said last week that Mongiardo has gained the momentum since Conway “lost control at Fancy Farm and launched into that profanity-laced speech at a church picnic.—

He pointed to a series of endorsements from Kentucky labor groups as evidence of that momentum.

“He proudly proclaims himself to be the candidate supported by national Democrats,— Geveden said. “We’re proud to be the candidate of Kentucky Democrats representing Kentucky values.—

But endorsements and Fancy Farm speeches may not mean a whole lot if Conway continues to dominate the fundraising battle as he did during the second quarter.

In three months, Conway outraised Mongiardo by more than $1 million. And though Mongiardo brought in a respectable $303,000, he also spent $206,000 during the quarter to Conway’s $97,000 spent. If Mongiardo continues with that kind of burn rate, Conway’s fundraising dominance will only be magnified and could prove overwhelming.

Geveden acknowledged Monday that Mongiardo won’t outraise Conway this quarter but said the lieutenant governor will beat his second-quarter mark.

“We won’t outraise Jack. We don’t need to. All we need to do is raise enough and we’re doing that,— Geveden said. “We’re working as hard as we can to raise as much as we can.—