LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Republican Rep. Ernie Fletcher (search) and Democratic state Attorney General Ben Chandler (search) were nominated for Kentucky (search) governor Tuesday, setting up a fall battle between two well-known politicians to replace a lame-duck, scandal-tainted Democrat.
Fletcher, a three-term congressman, is considered the GOP's best hope in years to capture an office it hasn't won since 1967. His opponent has major name recognition: Chandler is a grandson of Albert B. "Happy" Chandler, a former governor, senator and major league baseball commissioner.
Fletcher said he got a congratulatory call from President Bush's deputy political director. "They're looking for new leadership in this state," Fletcher told supporters.
He also said he would draw a sharp contrast between himself and Chandler.
"It's going to be a very aggressive campaign," he said. "That's the nature of campaigns in Kentucky, and we're ready for it."
Chandler's reaction was one of relief. He called the primary "the end of one long journey and the beginning of another."
With all precincts reporting, Fletcher had 88,747 votes, or 57 percent of the total. Former Jefferson County official Rebecca Jackson trailed with 43,147 votes, or 28 percent, while state Rep. Steve Nunn, son of the last GOP governor, Louie Nunn, had 20,147 votes, or 13 percent.
In the Democratic race, Chandler had 141,398 votes, or 51 percent, edging state House Speaker Jody Richards, who had 125,578 votes, or 45 percent.
Mississippi and Louisiana will also elect governors in November.
Fletcher and Chandler will be trying to succeed Democratic Gov. Paul Patton, who is barred from seeking a third term and leaves office reeling from scandal.
Patton dropped a plan to run for Senate after admitting to an affair that has led to state and federal investigations into whether he misused his office to help or retaliate against his lover.
Fletcher, a physician and former Air Force fighter pilot, was viewed by many in his party as the strongest candidate in a state where the GOP has steadily gained ground.
Of the 2.6 million voters in Kentucky, 59 percent are registered Democrats and 35 percent are registered Republicans. A decade ago, the breakdown was 67 percent Democrats, 30 percent Republicans.
The GOP primary was fought as much in court as on the stump. Fletcher lost his first running mate when a judge ruled Hunter Bates, once a top aide to Sen. Mitch McConnell, did not meet constitutional residency requirements.
Fletcher replaced Bates with Steve Pence, a former federal prosecutor, and he beat back a challenge from the Nunn campaign to get Fletcher disqualified for fielding an ineligible running mate.
Democratic candidates, meanwhile, were at pains to distance themselves from the governor. Richards, for one, told audiences "there has never been a hint of scandal" in his background and Chandler touted his virtue and honesty.
One of the Democratic heavyweights, businessman Bruce Lunsford, dropped out last week after sinking $8 million into the race. He quit when Chandler unveiled ads that talked about abuse at nursing homes operated by Lunsford's company.
Lunsford's name remained on the ballot, but county clerks posted notices saying votes for him would not count.