Kentucky’s 6th District Democratic congressman thinks President-elect Barack Obama speaks to “what is good in all of us” and will “govern from the middle.”

Ben Chandler, D-Versailles, took some heat for endorsing Obama last spring in advance of Kentucky’s primary which was won overwhelmingly by Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York. Obama also lost badly in Kentucky to Republican John McCain in Tuesday’s general election.

“I’m more than confident that he’s going to govern from the middle. I’ve thought it all along,” Chandler said Thursday. “I think he’s brilliant. I think he knows what he’s doing. I think he’s a tremendous politician, and I think he understands the public wants somebody to unify the country, not someone to veer the country either one way or the other.”

Chandler’s endorsement when most Kentucky Democrats (3rd District Congressman John Yarmuth also endorsed Obama) were reluctant to endorse Obama over Clinton won’t hurt Chandler’s standing. And he got more good news Thursday. Illinois Congressman Rahl Emanuel agreed to become Obama’s White House Chief of Staff.

“Rahm Emanuel helps me,” Chandler said. “He’s a good friend of mine.”

Chandler knows Obama and expects to meet again with the president-elect.

“I think I’ll have an opportunity to have some visits with him and hopefully some influence with him,” Chandler said.

He said Obama “speaks to our aspirations, he speaks to the good in all of us” and will persuade political leaders to work together on problems.

“It’s what the public wants,” Chandler said. “Most people I know in this country are moderate. They’re not hard left and they’re not hard right. They want things done in this country and they want the country to move forward. They want the country to cooperate and you do that by finding the point in the middle where you can find agreement. And I think that is what this president is going to do.”

But Chandler said Obama faces daunting problems.

“This country is in a deep hole,” Chandler said. “The man’s got to have a huge step ladder just to climb up and look out of the hole, much less get us out of it.”

Those, Chandler said, begin with the economic crisis but he thinks the country can find solutions. But it must change its spendthrift ways.

“If you spend more than you take in, you’re going to go broke,” Chandler said. “We’ve got to do something about changing the mind set in this country from government right on down so people understand they have to work hard, they have to save money, and they can’t continue to go on a spending spree.”

Obama wants to develop alternative sources of energy, including “clean-coal technology.” Chandler, who has expressed reservations about mountaintop removal mining practices, said coal is going to be an important part of the nation’s energy for a long time.

“The future of coal largely depends on the ability to sequester the carbon emissions,” Chandler said.

“Because no matter what you think about coal, no matter what you think about the damage you think coal may cause, it’s important and it’s not going to go away because it makes up an enormous percentage of the electrical generating capacity of this country.”

Chandler said Kentucky’s senior Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican Leader in the Senate, has a unique opportunity to work with Obama “to move this country forward,” observing that McConnell remains very powerful in Congress.

Wednesday, McConnell said he expects to cooperate with Obama, calling him “somebody who’s easy to like personally.”

“I intend to have a great relationship with him,” McConnell said. “As to how much support there’ll be on the Republican side, I think it depends in large measure on the direction the administration takes.”

Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. He may be reached by e-mail at rellis@cnhi.com. The Richmond Register is a CNHI newspaper.

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