Saturday, October 11, 2003

[IMAGE] Democratic candidate Ben Chandler (left) debates Republican candidate U.S. Rep. Ernie Fletcher.
(Associated Press photo)
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Gubernatorial hopefuls tangle in Bowling Green

Among topics discussed: free trade, Bush

By Joe Biesk
The Associated Press

BOWLING GREEN - Kentucky's gubernatorial candidates met Friday for a more cordial exchange on their economic policies - a topic that has been a focal point of the race.

At a "West Kentucky Economic Development Summit," Democrat Ben Chandler stepped up his criticism of the Economic Development Cabinet.

Chandler has previously said the agency, headed by Secretary Gene Strong, could use a "breath of fresh air." On Friday, Chandler said he would move "right away" to change its leadership.

"You want change, you want to talk about change in this race? Let's just change the faces of the Economic Development Cabinet," Chandler told the audience. "Let's get rid of them, and that's what I'm going to do."

He said the cabinet had paid more attention to affluent parts of Kentucky than other areas. Some of the agency's top officials support his Republican opponent, Ernie Fletcher, and have contributed to Fletcher's campaign.

Fletcher said he had "heard criticisms" of Strong but would not assess the cabinet's performance or announce his plans for its future. He said a cabinet that is "swayed tremendously by politics" would hurt job growth.

"The big thing here is that we're going to bring the leadership here that we need to make sure that we have the kind of economic development that will grow jobs in Kentucky," Fletcher said.

The NAFTA factor

As governor, Chandler said he would use the position as a pulpit to "oppose unfair national trade policies," which he said have contributed to job losses in the state.

"I will challenge our federal leaders to revisit NAFTA," Chandler said, referring to the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Fletcher, however, said the state needs to participate more in worldwide trade. "We've got to have a global approach," Fletcher said. "We need to make sure our trade agreements are fair."

Fletcher, the 6th District congressman, also said that as governor, he would create jobs by aiding small businesses and giving a sales-tax exemption on materials used for new construction.

Both candidates said the state needs to stimulate tourism, expand enterprise zones and make state property available for cell phone towers.

New TV spots trotted out

Also Friday, the Fletcher campaign aired a pair of new campaign commercials, one of which lampoons Chandler's praise for Frankfort at a rally in the capital city last weekend.

The 30-second spot shows a snippet of a stump speech in which Chandler says: "They talk about a mess in Frankfort. ... I don't think this city's a mess." An announcer replies: "No mess in Frankfort, Ben? Scandals, waste, out-of-control spending."

Edited out of the spot is the rest of Chandler's statement about Frankfort: "I think it's a right nice place. Last time I checked, the mess is in Washington."

The words "scandal and waste" also jump from the screen in the second spot, which Fletcher narrates. It underscores his main campaign theme - that it's "time for a change" after 32 years of Democratic administrations.

The Chandler campaign also put up a new commercial, a second version of a spot in which Chandler is seen playing basketball and complains of "cheap shots" by Fletcher.

The campaign also released a finance report showing that a $500,000 contribution from Chandler's running mate, Charlie Owen, put the campaign over $3 million for the election. Fletcher's campaign went over $4.1 million, with just more than $501,000 raised from Sept. 24 through Tuesday. A spokesman said an undetermined amount of that money was from ticket sales to a fund-raiser Thursday night with President Bush in Lexington.

Fletcher arrived in Bowling Green after the rousing fund-raiser-pep rally with Bush in Lexington. Fletcher went immediately to Bowling Green Junior High School for yet another forum with Chandler that sometimes got heated.

Cheers, jeers for Bush

Perhaps the loudest response came when Fletcher noted the Bush visit earlier in the day. Fletcher was interrupted after saying, "I think (Bush) is doing a great job."

Fletcher said later he thought Bush's visit was "going to help tremendously" and that the president's critics were "out of sync" with the rest of the state.

"It's very clear here that the supporters of Ben Chandler booed our president and heckled him to one point. And I think that shows the difference between my supporters and his supporters," Fletcher said. "I think that shows the difference in the type of leadership they like. And they don't like President Bush's leadership, apparently."

Chandler disagreed and said the state was "divided on the president and his policies." Bush should have visited with people other than political donors, Chandler said.

"He didn't make an effort to talk to anybody except somebody who paid $10,000 to have their picture taken with them," Chandler said. "Now you know he could have talked to some regular citizens."

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