FRANKFORT, Ky. – Gov. Paul Patton (search) is not running for re-election, but public disdain for him and his scandal-tarnished administration is setting the tone in the race to succeed him.
Attorney General Ben Chandler (search), the Democratic candidate for governor, makes a point of telling audiences he stands apart from the incumbent even though they're from the same party.
The Republican candidate, Rep. Ernie Fletcher (search), promotes himself as an agent of "real change" after 32 years of Democratic administrations.
In a poll of 600 likely voters last week, Patton's approval rating was 7 percent. Nearly one in five said their vote would express opposition to Patton, who admitted to an extramarital affair and is being sued by a former mistress.
Robin Adams, a state government employee and a Democrat, said she will go "completely opposite from the way I've voted in the past" and cast her ballot for Fletcher.
"A lot of it has to do with Paul Patton — his term and the scandal involved and the state of affairs that everything is in," Adams said. "I've always tried to support my party, the Democratic Party, but sometimes it comes down to: There needs to be a change."
Patton admitted having an affair with Tina Conner, the co-owner of a nursing home that later went bankrupt. Conner later accused Patton of turning state inspectors against the home in retaliation for her ending their relationship.
Patton has denied any abuse of his office. He has not been charged with a crime, but does face administrative charges by the Executive Branch Ethics Commission.
The poll, conducted for The Associated Press by telephone Tuesday through Thursday, found that 52 percent said they'd vote for Fletcher and 43 percent for Chandler. Four percent were undecided. The margin of error was plus or minus 4 percentage points.
More than three in five had a favorable opinion of President Bush (news - web sites), who came to Kentucky on Oct. 9 to rally on Fletcher's behalf and is set to return to the state Saturday.
Kentucky and Mississippi elect governors Nov. 4. Louisiana also has a gubernatorial election.
Chandler cast his campaign as a referendum on the national economy and job losses. But the poll indicated voters thought Fletcher was better equipped to handle the state's economy and hold the line on taxes and government spending.
Both candidates have disavowed the idea of raising taxes. They pledged to shore up the budget and to find money for teacher raises and Medicaid by cutting waste and generally streamlining the government.
In addition, Chandler advocated an expansion of gambling as a source of more state revenue.
Fletcher's campaign is based on a call for change. He criticized Chandler for having been the state's chief law officer through eight years of "the most waste, fraud, abuse and scandal that any of us can remember."
Chandler, who has never been a Patton ally and whose office has investigated parts of Patton's administration, insists he also can bring change. He tells audiences he would be "an independent governor who has shown the courage to stand up against special interests, shown the courage to stand up against people of his own party."
Judi Hunt, of Olympia in Bath County, said she would vote for Chandler in hoping to get a better "moral standard" in state government.
"I just hope he's honest and really sincere about making some changes. I think currently we're sort of been let down," Hunt said, referring to Patton.