By Charles Wolfe
The Associated Press
FRANKFORT, Ky. - Ben Chandler said Friday his campaign for governor was overwhelmed by opposition money and handicapped by the Democratic Party's lack of a compelling message.
In addition, President Bush's visit to Kentucky generated a bigger turnout in Republican strongholds and Gov.-elect Ernie Fletcher "didn't make any serious mistakes," Chandler said.
In an interview, Chandler also held out the possibility of running to succeed Fletcher in the U.S. House.
He also defended his running mate for lieutenant governor, Charlie Owen, who put $500,000 into their campaign but resisted those who wanted him to reach deeper into his personal fortune.
Fletcher defeated Chandler, the state's attorney general, by about 108,000 votes Tuesday. The Democratic Party had not lost a gubernatorial election since 1967. Fletcher carried 86 counties, running on a promise to "clean up the mess in Frankfort" after all those years of having Democrats in power.
"We didn't have a ready-made message," Chandler said. "They had a ready-made message, and it was simple. It was 'Let's clean up the mess in Frankfort; I'm a Republican. Democrats have caused this mess, and I'm a Republican.' "
Chandler said he suspects he was outspent by $10 million to $15 million, a total that includes $8 million spent by Bruce Lunsford to run against him in the primary.
"A good deal of it boils down to the amount of money spent," Chandler said. "I don't think, frankly, if Charlie had put a couple million more, I'm not sure that it would have made a great big difference."
Meanwhile, Fletcher was running on the Republican side on the theme that it was time for a change. Chandler said the two campaigns meshed well in the public consciousness, and there is "circumstantial evidence to suggest some coordination."
Chandler said a turning point occurred long before the campaign when Republicans in the Kentucky Senate succeeded in eliminating public financing and spending limits in gubernatorial campaigns. That enabled the GOP to bring more money to bear on the race.
Chandler said one commercial by the Republican Governors Association was especially effective. The 30-second television spot, referring to Chandler's handling of a lawsuit against health insurance giant Anthem Inc., said Chandler "wasted" part of the $45 million settlement.
Chandler was furious about the ad, which he called a gross distortion, and Fletcher distanced himself from it. But Chandler said his campaign's polling showed that the ad had worked because large numbers of voters suddenly were pushed into the Fletcher column.
Chandler's term as attorney general expires in the first week of January. He said he had not decided what to do but would not rule out running in a special election to complete Fletcher's congressional term, provided he could get the Democratic nomination. Chandler said he had no interest in running against U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning next year because he is not prepared for another statewide campaign.
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