IMAGE: Ky. Gov. Ernie Fletcher
Ed Reinke  /  AP file
Gov. Ernie Fletcher smiles during his election night celebration in Lexington, Ky.
updated 10/3/2007 4:31:58 PM ET 2007-10-03T20:31:58

After more than two years of scandal involving allegations of political hiring and firing, Kentucky voters may have had their fill of Gov. Ernie Fletcher.

Two news organization polls in recent weeks showed the first-term Republican trailing Democratic challenger Steve Beshear by as many as 20 percentage points in his bid for re-election Nov. 6.

"Gov. Fletcher is toast," said Michael Baranowski, a political scientist at Northern Kentucky University. He said the best Fletcher can hope for is "to avoid getting creamed at the polls, and even that doesn't look likely."

Fletcher, the first GOP governor in more than 30 years in this predominantly Democratic state, has been unable to get the focus off a scandal in which Republicans allegedly were rewarded with jobs at the expense of Democrats.

Hiring discrepancy
Several state employees who appeared before a grand jury claimed to have been passed over for promotions, transferred, demoted or fired for blatant political reasons.

At least 14 people were indicted, including the governor himself, who was charged last year with scheming to violate state hiring laws. But Fletcher created another furor when he issued pardons to everyone but himself.

Ultimately, prosecutors dropped the misdemeanor charges against Fletcher in a deal in which he acknowledged that the evidence "strongly indicates wrongdoing" by his administration and that the actions "were inappropriate."

The scandal has cast a big shadow over his campaign, despite the governor's best efforts to get voters to focus on his administration's accomplishments, especially in creating jobs.

Reclining in a high-backed chair in his Capitol office during a recent interview with The Associated Press, a smiling Fletcher exuded confidence despite his dismal showing in the polls.

"There's not any reason for me to worry about things I can't control," he said.

The Democratic opponent
Beshear, for his part, talks as if he has the job in hand, discussing ideas he wants to push through the legislature when it convenes in January.

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The former Kentucky attorney general and lieutenant governor supports a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow about 10 casinos to open in the state, a move that he says could generate $500 million a year in revenue.

In a series of TV ads, Fletcher has said gambling would contribute to bankruptcies, divorce and crime. He said Kentuckians would have to lose $1.5 billion at casinos to generate the level of revenue Beshear is predicting.

However, the governor shifted the focus of his latest TV ads away from casino gambling, accusing Beshear and his law firm of enriching themselves from their handling of a huge corporate bankruptcy case while hundreds of Kentuckians lost their jobs and thousands lost their savings.

Kentucky is one of only three states electing governors this year. The others are Mississippi and Louisiana.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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