The Richmond Register


June 29, 2010

Conway needs Mongiardo

RICHMOND — Most of the attention so far in the U.S. Senate race has been on Rand Paul, the TEA Party standard-bearer and anti-establishment, libertarian-leaning Republican. But if Democrat Jack Conway, Kentucky’s attorney general, is to make a race of it, he is going to have to patch up differences with his primary opponent, Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo, who has yet to endorse Conway.

Mongiardo has reasons to feel slighted — six years ago when no one else would try, he nearly unseated Republican Jim Bunning who this time isn’t running. But when it came time for Democrats to make another run at the seat, when Bunning couldn’t get the support of his own party’s leaders, foremost among them Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Democratic establishment backed Conway instead of Mongiardo. Even Gov. Steve Beshear who benefited from Mongiardo’s inclusion on the 2007 gubernatorial ticket provided only a lukewarm endorsement and didn’t get out on the campaign trail for Mongiardo.

Mongiardo believes there are two Democratic parties in Kentucky — that led by the establishment personified by former Sen. Wendell Ford, state Auditor Crit Luallen, Beshear and others and another one made up of “the little guys” with whom Mongiardo identifies. Conway had the backing of the Democratic elite and big donors, but Mongiardo led most of the way in polling — until Conway pummeled him with negative television ads while Mongiardo’s under funded campaign had to sit on the sidelines, hoarding its cash for the final push. Again, Mongiardo lost narrowly.

That hurts and it will take some time for Mongiardo to recover. In some ways, the “Randslide” beating suffered by Republican Secretary of State Trey Grayson to Paul was easier to absorb than Mongiardo’s yet again oh-so-close loss. And while feelings aren’t warm between Grayson and Paul, Grayson has publicly endorsed Paul, at least attempting the appearance of party unity.

We won’t know until campaign finance reports are filed, but it’s believed Mongiardo’s campaign has a debt and he may want help from Conway in retiring it.  I’ve been told it’s not large and that Conway agreed to help raise money for Mongiardo in exchange for the Mongiardo campaign’s dropping its call for a re-canvass of votes which might have delayed contributions from national donors. But word is Conway hasn’t delivered yet and that may be holding up a Mongiardo endorsement.

Conway needs Mongiardo. Despite the Democratic edge in registration, Kentucky is a conservative state which views President Barack Obama suspiciously at best. Conservative Democrats have been voting Republican in recent federal elections and they wonder if Conway’s election would represent another vote for Obama’s fiscal and environmental policies. Fairly or not, Conway is viewed by many as a rich urban elite. He’s not strong in rural western Kentucky. He can’t beat Paul just by rolling up huge margins in his home base of Jefferson County as he did in defeating Mongiardo, riding high turnout there because of a contested mayor’s race. He’s got to pick up votes in eastern and western Kentucky, both places where Mongiardo can help.

Conway’s people may think if Mongiardo withholds his support he will be blamed should Conway lose, thereby diminishing Mongiardo’s future prospects even further. But it’s Conway’s name on the ballot — and if he loses his second congressional race (he lost to Anne Northup in a previous race for the Third District), his future prospects won’t look so good either.

Right now Conway needs Mongiardo more than Mongiardo needs Conway.

Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at cnhifrankfort.

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