Kentucky Governor Fletcher's Lieutenant Endorses His Boss's Primary Opponent for '07 Re-Election Bid

Embattled Gov. Ernie Fletcher's second in command endorsed an opponent Monday in the governor's race.

Republican Lt. Gov. Steve Pence threw his support to former U.S. Rep. Anne Northup, who entered the race saying the incumbent's legal turmoil has rendered him politically vulnerable to Democrats.

"She is the better candidate for the Republican party," Pence said. "She has a real chance of winning."

Pence had already refused to run for re-election with Fletcher and publicly questioned whether the first Republican governor elected in Kentucky in more than 30 years could win in the wake of a grand jury investigation into his administration's hiring practices.

A third Republican, businessman Billy Harper, is also vying for the GOP nod. Seven Democrats are running and have sharply criticized Fletcher.

The governor was indicted last year on charges that he illegally rewarded political supporters with protected state jobs. The indictment was dismissed in a deal with prosecutors, but the special grand jury later said Fletcher had approved a "widespread and coordinated plan" to skirt state hiring laws.

Fletcher has maintained that the investigation was politically motivated.

Pence said he initially ran with Fletcher on a mission to change the culture in Frankfort that rewarded political supporters and punished opponents, but now questioned whether that mission was accomplished.

"The Republican Party must have a candidate who can get beyond the scandals of this administration," Pence said.

Northup said the endorsement from Pence is important.

"He has a clear vision of what happened and what should have happened," Northup said.

Kentucky is one of three states that will elect a governor in 2007. The GOP primary is May 22.