Saturday, June 12, 2004

Rechtin credits victor's strategy

Vet 'shocked' by novice's win

Click here to e-mail Patrick Crowley
NEWPORT - Ken Rechtin figured he'd be spending early June planning his next campaign, not getting over his last one.

So, this week, as he picked at a breakfast of Bob Evans bacon and over-easy eggs, Rechtin pondered his unexpected loss in the May 18 Democratic statehouse primary in northern Campbell County.

"I've taken a lot of time to think about this and why it happened," said Rechtin, a Campbell County commissioner and former Newport City Commissioner. "Because the only way you learn about something is looking back and asking, what the hell happened?"

Rechtin, a fixture in Campbell County government and politics for two decades, was upset in the 67th House District primary by Dennis Keene.

Keene, the owner of a manufactured housing company and a successful real estate investor, is in his second term on Wilder City Council.

But he was virtually unknown politically before getting in the race and plopping his distinctive green-and-white campaign signs throughout the 67th District, which includes Newport, Dayton, Bellevue, Southgate, Wilder and parts of Highland Heights.

Because of his relative political obscurity, political watchers, along with Rechtin and his supporters, were stunned when Keene beat Rechtin by fewer than 100 votes - 1,052 to 957 - in the Democratic primary.

"I was shocked, and had tons of calls from people who were shocked," Rechtin said in his first extended interview since the primary. "Dennis did an excellent job. He did a good job of energizing the people, and I didn't do that."

Keene moves on to run in November's general election against Wilder Republican Mark Hayden. The winner succeeds House Majority Caucus Chairman Jim Callahan, D-Wilder, who is retiring in December after 18 years in Frankfort.

Rechtin maintains his seat on the county fiscal court but is left to analyze why he lost.

"The message was wrong," Rechtin said, "from the very kickoff to the very end."

Rechtin said he ran on a platform of "bringing a style of cooperative leadership to Frankfort."

"I talked about how we worked together in Newport to compromise, to find ways to get things done," Rechtin said. "In the county, I work across party lines to get work collaboratively."

With state lawmakers locked in a budget battle that cuts along party lines, Rechtin said he was convinced his message of cooperation and bipartisanship would "resonate" with voters.

Instead, he should have adopted a more partisan message that appealed to the 18 percent of hard-core Democrats who voted in the primary.

"I wasn't talking to everybody," Rechtin said. "I was in a Democratic primary. I should have been talking more to just Democrats."

Rechtin said Keene did a better job appealing to those voters with a very simple and explicit message.

Keene told voters that if Rechtin were elected, the Democrats would lose his seat on the Campbell County Fiscal Court. Under Kentucky law, the governor fills vacancies on county fiscal courts.

And since Gov. Ernie Fletcher is a Republican Keene said, Fletcher would appoint a Republican to Rechtin's seat.

"The only answer to that ends up being negative on my opponent, and I had made a promise I would not do that," said Rechtin, a Fifth Third Bank vice president who lives in South Newport.

Keene agreed that his message was effective. But he also said voters he talked to were satisfied with the job Rechtin is doing on the fiscal court and didn't want to see him leave.

"People thought Ken was doing a great job as a county commissioner," Keene said. "We did identify Democrats who always vote in primaries and who would be concerned about losing the fiscal court seat.

"But our real key to victory was just hard work. We had a real good group of 29 very dedicated people who went door-to-door and worked the grassroots at getting the people out, and it worked out for us."

Rechtin said he is supporting all Democrats on the ballot this fall, including Keene. But he is getting actively involved with the campaign of Nick Clooney, the Democrat running for Northern Kentucky's 4th District Congressional seat.

"I'm very impressed with" Clooney, Rechtin said.

"That's where my efforts will be spent this fall, assisting him."



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