FRANKFORT, Ky. — Fresh from his primary win, Republican gubernatorial candidate David Williams reached out Saturday to a splintered Kentucky GOP as he turned his attention to the fall general election.
With tea party activists still smarting from Phil Moffett's loss in that primary and some Republicans defecting to the camp of Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear, Williams has a tough job ahead.
"I don't think it's doable," said Mike Karem, a longtime GOP operative who served as an adviser to Bobbie Holsclaw, also a loser in Tuesday's Republican gubernatorial primary. "Once the horses are out of the barn, it's hard to round them back up. The chances of bringing these people together is nil to none, and nil just left town."
The job could have been more complicated had Moffett, a Louisville businessman who was the tea party favorite, not rejected his supporters' call to run as a write-in candidate this fall.
"I've discouraged that as much as I can," Moffett said Saturday.
Williams, Holsclaw and Moffett shared a stage at state Republican Party headquarters at a rally Saturday afternoon. However, neither Holsclaw nor Moffett spoke.
"They gave me the opportunity, and I told them I would prefer not to," Moffett said.
Moffett gave no endorsement. "It's a matter of getting to know each other better," he said. "We'll continue to do that and see where things lead."
Holsclaw, a popular Louisville political figure who is being courted heavily by the Beshear campaign, offered no public endorsement at the rally. "I'm here to say I'm happy for those who won," she said.
Kentucky's two Republican U.S. senators — Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell — calling for party members to support Williams and his running mate, former University of Kentucky basketball star Richie Farmer.
"I'm very proud of our ticket," said Paul, who successfully tapped the tea party for support. "I'll do whatever I can to help."
McConnell offered a strong endorsement, saying Williams, the longtime state Senate president, knows what it will take to make Kentucky economically competitive with neighboring states.
"He's smart," McConnell said. "He's capable. He's a terrific debater. He knows exactly where to take this state."
In a brief speech, Williams insisted that Kentucky Republicans are unified.
"If anybody doubts our unity, our resolve, let the word go out, we are unified," he told a crowd of about 200 at the GOP headquarters, just down the street from the Capitol.
But some tea party activists who attended the rally held a different view.
"There are so many battles to be fought. I might just focus my energy elsewhere," said Dawn Cloyd, a Lexington businesswoman who supported Moffett in the primary. "I really haven't decided who to vote for in the general election."
Political activist David Adams, who managed Moffett's primary campaign, said he believes Cloyd's sentiment is widespread.Comment on this story
"I think getting the tea party involved is going to be a challenge," he said.
The Beshear campaign released endorsements on Friday from 70 Republican leaders from across the state, including former Lt. Gov. Steve Pence and former Jefferson County GOP Chairman Jon Ackerson.
Beshear, who has raised $5 million for his re-election campaign and is expected to begin airing his first TV ad on Monday, said he's grateful for the support.
"When I ran in 2007, I pledged that I would support ideas to improve Kentucky, and that it didn't matter if they were Democratic or Republican ideas, as long as they were good ideas," he said in a statement. "I've followed through on that pledge."