Sunday, July 18, 2004

Candidates use poverty as leverage


Around Northern Kentucky

Pat Crowley

During Kentucky's 1995 gubernatorial race, Republican Larry Forgy told a great story about the lengths politicians would go to profess their humble beginnings.

Forgy, easily the greatest orator I've ever covered, would tell of being approached by a woman while on the campaign trail.

She was impressed with Abe Lincoln's backwoods upbringing in the woods of Kentucky.

"Were you born in a log cabin?" Forgy said the woman asked him.

"No ma'am," Forgy would say with a sheepish grin. "I was born in a manger."

Forgy's point was a great one. Candidates, many of whom are very successful and often wealthy, love to talk about the rags but rarely the riches when making their case to voters.

Apparently, they think it is better to boast about once being poor, so as to better connect with blue-collar and low-income voters.

The "Hey, I was poor once" mantra was on full display this week in the Campbell County statehouse race between Republican Mark Hayden and Democrat Dennis Keene.

It is admirable when anyone, not just a politician, works hard to become a success. Keene, a successful real estate investor and homebuilder whose family made lots of money in the parking lot business, and Hayden, a partner in a well-known law firm, certainly have made it.

But as they traded some barbs this week over a political issue, both were touting backgrounds that were a mix of Charles Dickens and Horatio Alger.

"I can identify with the (working class people) of the" 67th District, Keene said. "I have made my living here. I've worked blue collar, white collar and no collar. I'm proud of the small business I've built. I know our people."

Hayden says he was "born and raised in a working-class family."

"I have worked blue collar, white collar, no collar and no-shirt jobs," he said, trying to one-up Keene in the area of working man attire. "I worked hard to pay my way through college and law school. I am proud of the business I've built. My success is derived from hard work and education."

I'm all choked up.

This goes on in other races as well, even the presidential campaign.

I find it hilarious that Bush/Cheney and Kerry/Edwards have taken shots at each other for being millionaires - when all four of them are multimillionaires.

John Edwards really lays it on about how he was raised by a textile mill worker, was the first member of his family to graduate from college and then went on to make millions as a trial attorney.

It really is a good, inspiring story. But it just can't compare to being born in that manger.

E-mail pcrowley@enquirer.com

Crowley interviews Kentucky Democratic Party Chairman Bill Garmer this week on ICN6's "On The Record", which is broadcast daily on Insight Communications Channel 6.




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