David Williams survived a primary election season filled with potential bombshells to capture the Republican nomination for governor in Kentucky and the right to challenge a popular Democratic incumbent in November.
Williams, the often prickly state Senate president, easily defeated Louisville businessman Phil Moffett and Jefferson County Clerk Bobbie Holsclaw on Tuesday. He heads into what is expected to be a rough and tumble general election campaign against a familiar foe in the Capitol, Gov. Steve Beshear.
With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Williams had 68,540 votes or 48 percent, to Moffett’s 53,950 votes or 38 percent. Holsclaw had 19,644 votes or 14 percent.
“ I humbly accept the nomination,” Williams told jubilant supporters at a Lexington hotel after he had received congratulatory calls from his two opponents. “Together, we are united.”
Holsclaw pulled enough votes from Moffett to ensure Williams’ victory.
“I would never say that I was a spoiler,” Holsclaw said. “ We all ran on our own merits. I look at it that maybe Phil Moffett was the spoiler for me.”
Moffett, a tea party favorite who did far better in the race than polls had predicted, praised his supporters.
“I think we did a fantastic job,” Moffett said. “We exceeded expectations on all levels, and I couldn’t be prouder of the people who supported us, the grassroots groups, the tea party groups, the 9/12ers, the Take Back Kentucky groups. They’re a force in politics.”
Moffett defended Holsclaw’s campaign.
“ The truth is she had every right to be in the race, and she was, and it’s just part of the deal,” he said.
Williams, the state’s best known anti-gambling advocate, was dealt a particularly troubling setback late in the campaign when a judge unsealed financial documents in a decade-old divorce case that showed he had a history of casino gambling. In a Bible-belt state like Kentucky, the juxtaposition can turn off a key voting bloc, conservative Christians.
Having raised $1.2 million, Williams was the only Republican with enough for a television advertising campaign. His TV ads were positive, showing him happy and smiling and promising brighter times ahead if he’s elected governor.
The GOP candidates differed little on key Republican issues, from cutting state spending to opposing abortion. In campaign appearances, Williams was able to avoid arguing with his Republican opponents and focus instead on attacking Beshear as ineffective.
Democratic leaders were already targeting Williams long before the primary votes were counted, calling for him to release his income tax returns, which, they charge, would likely show gambling losses.
Democratic state Sen. Kathy Stein questioned what Williams has to hide by not releasing his tax information. Williams, however, said he releases his financial information on legislative disclosure forms and that he considers it unnecessary to provide income tax returns.
Williams’ running mate, former University of Kentucky basketball star Richie Farmer, had problems of his own. Farmer’s wife, Rebecca, filed for divorce last month without giving a reason, triggering a whisper campaign of speculation about the cause of the split .
Moffett and Holsclaw were careful not to make the pending divorce an issue, adhering to Richie Farmer’s request to respect his family’s privacy.
Farmer, who was twice elected state agriculture commissioner, asked in a motion last month that the divorce petition be dismissed, but, if not, that he receive joint custody of their three children.
Beshear told supporters in Frankfort that he’s ready for the Republican nominee, touting his record of cutting $1.3 billion from the state budget while avoiding mass layoffs. He also reminded supporters that he had cut his own salary to help deal with the financial woes.
“I’m very mindful of the pain our families are feeling,” he said.
Republican Governors Association Executive Director Phil Cox said in a statement that Williams’ is a strong candidate to run against Beshear.
“David’s message of creating jobs, protecting the taxpayers, and standing up to the Obama administration resonates with Kentucky voters and contrasts sharply with Steve Beshear’s record as governor,” Cox said.