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Exclusive: Williams dominates GOP primary in WHAS11/CJ Bluegrass Poll

by Joe Arnold


Posted on April 16, 2011 at 11:27 PM

Updated Friday, Oct 12 at 2:20 PM

(WHAS11) If the Kentucky Republican primary for governor was held today, the ticket of Senate President David Williams and Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer would easily win the right to face Democratic incumbent Governor Steve Beshear (D), according to a new WHAS11/Courier-Journal Bluegrass Poll of likely GOP primary voters.

Williams/Farmer      49%
Moffett/Harmon         14%
Holsclaw/Vermilion 12%
Undecided                 25%
Margin of error +/- 4.4%

At 49 percent, the frontrunners have nearly twice as much support as the other two Republican tickets combined.

"We're very pleased with where we are in this primary," said Scott Jennings, the Williams/Farmer campaign director, "and also pleased that people seem to be responding to the fact that we are running a positive campaign."

Yet, Williams is the target of barbs from the other two Republican candidates, who both say that he is not the solution, but part of the problem in Frankfort.

"The most underlying thing about his history as Senate President is the fact that we've gone from $3 billion in debt to $44 billion in debt in ten years," said Phil Moffett, who trails Williams by 35 points in the poll.  "And Steve Beshear has been complicit in the last three years or so, but David Williams has been complicit for the last eleven."

"(Williams') training wheels came off years ago and what have we gotten?" asked Jefferson County Clerk Bobbie Holsclaw, who trails Williams by 37 points in the poll, " A state that's in worse debt that it's ever been in."

Yet, Republican primary voters who identify with the Tea Party and its message of attacking the debt and taxes, overwhelmingly support the Williams/Farmer ticket, by an even wider margin than the entire GOP voter pool.

Tea Party voters

Williams/Farmer 53%
Moffett/Harmon 16%
Holsclaw/Vermilion 10%
Undecided 21%
Margin of error +/- 4.4%

"They know David Williams is someone who has fought for lower taxes," Jennings said, "and who has fought in Frankfort to stop a billion dollars in new debt in the state budget in the most recent budget go around."

"There have been people in this campaign who have tried to dictate to the Tea Party who they must support," Jennings continued, "and campaigns are about a competition of ideas and a debate about records. And in this competition and in this debate, it has become clear to most people who identify with the Tea Party that David Williams is someone they can trust."

Moffett - who has fashioned himself as THE Tea Party candidate in the race, garners only 16% of the Tea Party vote.

"The Tea Party, they hate debt," Moffett said, "and they hate people that line their own pockets.  And as they learn more, I don't think those numbers will hold up for Williams."

Moffett and Holsclaw have been hammering Williams for his 2005 vote for a bill that fattened the pensions of part-time lawmakers if the lawmakers get better paying government jobs for at least three years.

"I think that will come back to haunt him," Moffett said.

Williams has since attempted to repeal the measure and now vows to either not accept the higher pension or donate it to charity if he  is elected governor.

"We're going to take some values and some integrity into Frankfort," Holsclaw said, "and they haven't had it for a long time."

"I'm not the least bit discouraged by the numbers," Holsclaw said, "It's about where I would expect it to be.  Being that I've only been in it now for six or seven weeks, David Williams has been running for governor his entire political career."

Despite campaigning aggressively for eight months - Moffett is neck and neck with four term Jefferson County Clerk Bobbie Holsclaw, who entered the race less than three months ago. Holsclaw suggests that Moffett drop out of the race.

"Mr. Moffett is a fringe candidate," Holsclaw continued, "I have a real problem. Mr. Moffett to me is not a Republican."

Holsclaw has twice as much suppport than Moffett where voters know her best - in Jefferson County and surrounding counties. Moffett is also from Louisville.

Louisville area GOP voters
Williams/Farmer          44%
Moffett/Harmon             11%
Holsclaw/Vermilion     25%
Undecided                     20%
Margin of error +/- 4.4%

"David Williams ought to kiss Bobbie Holsclaw square on the lips," Moffett quipped, quoting radio talk show host Joe Elliott, "because she's helping him get elected."

Both Moffett and Holsclaw say they would back Williams if he is the Republican nominee, but both say Williams can't beat Beshear.

"(Williams is) the best chance that we have as conservatives to beat a liberal ticket of Steve Beshear and Jerry Abramson this fall," countered Jennings.

Holsclaw - who has won elections in Jefferson County with wide bipartisan support, says she's the only Republican who can beat Governor Steve Beshear.

In the WHAS11/Courier-Journal Bluegrass Poll pitting each Republican ticket versus Beshear and his running mate, former Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson, the Williams/Farmer ticket is the most competitive among the Republicans, yet still trails the Democratic ticket by 12 points.

General Election
1589 Likely Voters

Beshear/Abramson (D)  51%
Williams/Farmer (R)       39%
Undecided                        10%
Margin of error +/- 2.5%

"I'm sure it's going to be all over the place between now and November," Beshear said, "But, it's always good to feel like folks appreciate what you're doing and approve of what you're doing."

Beshear said the campaign is secondary to his efforts to improve Kentucky's economy and add jobs.

The poll shows the Beshear/Abramson ticket with a 19 point advantage against Holsclaw and Bill Vermillion.

General Election
1589 Likely Voters

Beshear/Abramson (D)  53%
Holsclaw/Vermillion (R) 34%
Undecided                        13%
Margin of error +/- 2.5%

The ticket of Phil Moffett and Mike Harmon trails the Democratic ticket by an almost identical margin.

General Election
1589 Likely Voters

Beshear/Abramson (D) 54%
Moffett/Harmon (R) 34%
Undecided 13%
Margin of error +/- 2.5%

"The most interesting thing to me," Moffett said, "is because of the pension scandal and debt that he's piled up on Kentucky, David Williams can't win the general election."

"David Williams certainly cannot beat Steve Beshear next November," Holsclaw agreed.

Beshear appears to be the lone unifying force for the Republican candidates, who all say he lacks leadership. And who all say - despite rancor within the GOP primary - they will back the eventual Republican nominee.

The WHAS11/Courier-Journal Bluegrass Poll did not include the independent ticket of Lexington attorney Gatewood Galbraith and marketing executive Dee Riley because - although they have filed to run for governor and lt. governor, they have not yet submitted the 5,000 signatures necessary to qualify for the fall ballot.

"(Galbraith will) take some from Steve Beshear," Holsclaw said, "I've been on the campaign trail with Gatewood.  You know, to be honest with you, Phil Moffett is just dressed up Gatewood Galbraith.  He's a dressed up Gatewood Galbraith."

"Gatewood has drawn anywhere between 12 and 15 percent in the past," Moffett said, "So, I think it will have an effect."

Jennings agreed that Galbraith will "steal a sizeable chunk" of Beshear's support.

 "We know that the Beshear/Abramson ticket is extremely concerned about the presence of another candidate," Jennings said, expressing disapproval with the decision not to include Galbraith in the poll.

Beshear laughed when asked about Galbraith cutting into his support, yet acknowledged that the perenniel independent candidate will garner some votes.

"Well, you've gotta love Gatewood," Beshear responded, "I mean, everybody, I think, likes Gatewood. He's run now several times and he's a friend of mine. So, I always enjoy seeing him and we'll see how he does in the fall. My guess is it'll be about the way he's usually does, but you know there are folks that like Gatewood, so we'll see."

Without Galbraith in the poll, Beshear/Abramson leads Williams/Farmer in all regions of the state, but is especially strong in the urban centers of Louisville and Lexington.

Western Kentucky                   
Beshear/Abramson (D)  46%
Williams/Farmer (R)       44%

Louisville and surrounding counties
Beshear/Abramson (D)  58%
Williams/Farmer (R)       35%

Jennings predicted that Williams' sponsorship of the Neighborhood Schools bill in Frankfort would resonate with Jefferson County voters.

North Central Kentucky
Beshear/Abramson (D)  51%
Williams/Farmer (R)       38%

Eastern Kentucky
Beshear/Abramson (D)  46%
Williams/Farmer (R)       43%

In the WHAS11/Courier-Journal Bluegrass Poll of the Republican primary, the Williams/Farmer leads in all regions of the commonwealth.

Western Kentucky GOP voters
Williams/Farmer     51%
Moffett/Harmon        13%
Holsclaw/Vermillion 7%
Undecided               28%

North Central Kentucky GOP voters
Williams/Farmer     43%
Moffett/Harmon        22%
Holsclaw/Vermillion 7%
Undecided              28%

"I think as long as we get up to North and North Central Kentucky, campaign, talk about our message and do the kind of advertising we need to do, we'll be just fine," Jennings said.

"We will work Northern Kentucky hard," Holsclaw said, "and we have not done that yet.  But I will have the opportunity to get out."

Eastern Kentucky GOP voters
Williams/Farmer     65%
Moffett/Harmon          5%
Holsclaw/Vermillion 8%
Undecided               22%

One-quarter of likely Republican primary voters remain undecided in the poll, with the primary only one month away.

"Honestly, I think the number is a little higher than that," Moffett said, "because as people learn more about David Williams' record, I think a lot of people will be changing their minds."


"I think some of the other candidates have run extremely negative campaigns," countered Jennings, "and so we're happy that we've been able to run a positive message and it seems to be resonating with all conservative Republican voters."