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Backyard Politics: Rand's plans unveiled, state candidates vetted and county leadership put to the test at Oldham County GOP Women's Club

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By Rae Hodge

Eager to piggyback on an expected wave of statewide Republican momentum, the Oldham County Republican Women’s Club will be sponsoring a gubernatorial debate among all four Republican candidates--Matt Bevin, James Comer, Hal Heiner and Will Scott--on Tuesday, April 7.

The same day, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky, is expected to announce his decision to run for the U.S. presidency in 2016.

During the club’s March 10 meeting, a field representative for Paul, Jennifer Decker, spoke to the club, intimating that Paul would, indeed, be announcing his bid.

“On April 7 in Louisville at the Galt House at noon Sen. Paul is going to make an announcement about something. A big announcement,” said Decker, grinning and pausing briefly to accommodate the groups’ chuckles. “We expect a big crowd so you might want to get there at 11:15 a.m… and you’re all invited and we hope you’ll come.”  

Campaign revelations didn’t end there. Paul’s Deputy State Director Rachel McCubbin revealed the voting mechanism that both local and statewide Republican paties would use in the caucus-driven primary, including how he would pay for the local Republican Party of Kentucky (RPK) chapters to proceed with the strategy, which McDubbin says is a one-time deal.

“One question we’re often asked is ‘Does this apply to other races?’ No. This doesn’t apply to any other year and it doesn’t apply to any other races in 2016. So you still have to organize your precints and everyone for your May primary because there will be your state House and Senate candidate and all the other candidates will have the primary. We will simply use this as our method for selecting our would-be president.”

McCubbins also said that, despite misinformation, many will be able to vote in the caucus primaries, though much is still undecided.

“If you are registered to vote in Kentucky, you will be eligible to vote in your caucus for your choice for President. And real specifics on how that’s going to be accomplished are going to be set forth by the committee that was appointed . There are 13 men and women on that committee, and they are going to get down into the weeds, as they say, on exactly what those rules are going to be.”

McCubbins said that will happen on Aug. 22 this year, when nearly every elected Republican will convene. Then, each county will hold its own caucus on the first Saturday of Mar. 2016 to vote.

“The reason that im very excited about it is that my whole adult life in Kentucky, my vote for president in the primary has not really been worth the paper that it was printed on or the voting machine that I went to because it occurs so late in the cycle,” she said.

When asked how the local chapters could afford the caucus organizing work, McCubbins said if it comes right down to it, Sen. Paul is ready to raise the funds to pay for a caucus primary.

“That is what will be researched by (the elected officials gathering on Aug. 22). Sen. Paul has committed to help raise the money to pay for it. I don’t want to share the particulars I heard this morning, but Steve Robertson has made a couple of calls to some organizations that could help with the physical aspect of balloting and they will come back with a price proposal that is very attractive which is a lot less than what’s been bandied about in the press,” she said.

“I believe the bottom line is that we’re not going to be looking for counties to raise their own money to put it on.”

Even spurred by national momentum, the decision to sponsor the debate wasn’t easily made. And its proposal was paired with both enthusiasm and admonishment from club Chair Debby Pate, who is spearheading the debate and looking to increase voter turnout.

“We did it for the senatorial candidates and it was a wonderful thing. We had seven Republican candidates years ago and we had it at the high school. Honest to goodness, we got people excited about it,” she said, recalling a previous debate sponsored by the club.

“Thirteen percent is all that’s going to come and vote. And if we don’t know which candidate we like or want, how are we going to find the data? In my opinion, I think this club should be involved in helping Republican candidates get known, get out there and get elected.”

Pate said the previous debate also shaped her own opinions of the candidates.

“I decided my senatorial candidate last time, and it was not the one I picked going into it,” she said. “I mean, Matt (Bevin) sounds great but I’ve never heard Comer speak. I never heard Will Scott, who called me while I was sitting here because I texted everybody this morning trying to find out their interest.”

Full-steam, she told the club she’d already put a plan into action, making 15 calls that morning: she quickly fired off local venue prices, liability requirements, seating arrangements, and possible partnerships.

“I think for $1,000 we can get this done. I’ve already asked Henry County (GOP). They are interested in this,” she said, pointing out that the club has $9,000, more than enough to organize a debate. “Would you all be interested in sponsoring something like that?”

Mostly quiet, a few modest nods of agreement bounced around the room from the other club members.
Pate paused for a moment.

“My big concern is this,” she said, lowering her voice. “I think we’re a sad, sad party if we find a candidate that wins the primary, that claimed bankruptcy three times in his lifetime and we got him up for auditor.”

Her reference, of course, was to the party’s 2011 candidate for State Auditor, John T. Kemper, whose name now serves as a stinging reminder of recent criticisms for many Kentucky Republicans.

Kemper lapsed into personal bankruptcy after his Lexington construction business went belly-up, using $124 of his campaign fund to pay his vehicle tax, and even faced home foreclosure after securing a victory in the GOP primary—all while stumping around the state on the campaign slogan, “A Debt-Free Kentucky.”

“I think that’s sad,” said Pate, solemnly. “You might as well just hand it to the Democrats and say, ‘We aren’t qualified to find a Republican candidate to run.’”

The group was quiet.  

“Are you saying we can’t find one?” asked one member.

“No, we did it,” responded Pate. “We had won the primary, and the Democrats come out and say, ‘Well, did y’all know he claimed bankruptcy three times? And y’all want to run him for auditor?’

“I just think we need to be proactive,” she continued. “If you will do this, I will chair this.…It’s not a hard job, but we need to make an impression.”

The club members regained their bearing. A motion was made and approved: the group would sponsor the debate.

Discussion swung back-and-forth between members on timing and location, each date no better than the last, until Matt Bevin—the Republican gubernatorial hopeful and the club’s guest speaker that day, who was still on hand after having finished his speech to the group nearly an hour prior, and who had been sitting the entire time with polite quietude at the end of the groups’ table—reminded everyone of his presence by gently offering a savvy strategy that would ultimately seal the deal for the group.

“I’d be delighted if offered the opportunity, and I’d like people to hear a side-by-side and make an informed decision,” he began. “That said, April 7 you’re going to have a whole lot of Republicans who are excited, who are going to be right in this immediate area in the middle of the day. Very conceivably, many of them will have come from other parts of the state. And conceivably, you could piggyback off of that.”

Bevin cautiously continued. “You’re going to have a target-rich audience of people that would care about this, who have already come from all across this state to be in Louisville Tuesday. I would suggest maybe target that because you could not only get Oldham County but every other county in the state because of something that happens with Republican politics right in your backyard.”

At time of press, the club has confirmed: they will, indeed, host the debate on April 7 at the La Grange Baptist Church on 1139 Commerce Parkway. Doors open at 6:15 p.m. The debate will begin at 7 p.m.