With state and national elections a week away, two of the state's best-known political commentators brought their insights and good-natured ribbing for one another to the Danville Country Club on Monday for the Danville-Boyle County Chamber of Commerce Public Policy Series luncheon.
Louisville attorney and right-leaning columnist John David Dyche and longtime Courier-Journal political reporter and opinion page fixture Al Cross reprised roles as foils for each other’s political punditry they have become well known for on Kentucky Educational Television. They also were part of the Public Policy Series last October.
Dyche is a native of London but graduated from Centre College and has close ties to the Danville community. His sister, Paige Stevens, a Danville City Commission candidate, and son Aaron, a freshman at Centre, were both in the audience Monday.
“Any opinions expressed here are my own and should not be attributed to or held against (Paige),” Dyche told the audience.
Dyche and Cross jumped right into the presidential race between President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney. Both predicted an election so close there could be echoes of 2000, when Democrat Al Gore won the popular vote but lost the general election based on electoral college votes following a contentious Supreme Court decision.
Cross until recently thought Obama was in good shape for a narrow victory, but recent developments, such as Iowa looking like it’s back in play for Romney, have given him pause. He believes the momentum from Romney's first debate surge has dissipated and the undecided voters, who tend to vote against incumbents, are also more likely to not vote at all.
Cross said scenarios include a partisan role reversal of 2000, in which Romney would win the popular vote, but lose the electoral college. He said one prognosticator, Nate Silver, also has pointed out the slim possibility of an electoral vote tie, which would allow a Republican House of Representatives to choose Romney and a Democrat Senate to choose the vice president.
Dyche, who had criticized Romney's campaign in his Courier-Journal column, still thinks Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, will prevail. He noted Romney was actually the more presidential of the two candidates during the debates, with Obama looking like “a mean, snippy challenger.”
Dyche compared the debates and the overall dynamic of the campaign to 1980, when many people saw Ronald Regan as presidential for the first time when he stood on the stage with one-term incumbent Jimmy Carter. Like Obama, Dyche said Carter was a relative newcomer to national politics and presiding over heightened economic turmoil.
Although Cross believes people should back off the apocalyptic talk about what would result from a second Obama term, Dyche believes doomsday attitudes of many Americans over Obama’s first term were warranted in light of the dismal economic performance.
The men agreed that any contested decision would be a potential disaster and one Dyche said the country might have a difficult time coping with.
The duo also touched on the hotly-contested 6th District U.S. House race between incumbent Ben Chandler and Republican Andy Barr, whom Chandler beat by less than 700 votes in 2010.
Dyche said it was jarring to drive through what had been the 6th District and see signs for 2nd District candidate Brett Guthrie of Bowling Green.
While Boyle, Garrard and Mercer counties are no longer in the district, Cross, who said the Chandler-Barr race may be the nastiest he had seen for a major office, had a suspicion the race still holds major interest. When he asked the crowd whether they wished they could still vote in the race, most people raised their hands.
Another point Cross and Dyche agreed on was Guthrie's intelligence and political chops.
“You may just have a philosophical disagreement with the conservative Republican viewpoint, and that’s fine. I respect that,” Dyche said. “But as far as a person in politics, who is a good person and a thoughtful and intelligent person, Brett Guthrie is outstanding. He’s a West Point grad. He’s been involved in his family’s business. He approaches political problems with the mindset of an engineer or a scientist. But he’s just utterly delightful as a human being, and I think you will like him whether you agree with him or not.”
Both said Guthrie could be a potential candidate for governor in three years, an office Cross noted would be easier to campaign for with a foothold in central Kentucky.
Cross said he isn’t sure if Guthrie has the fire in his belly necessary to make a run for the state’s top post. He referenced former Gov. Ernie Fletcher, whom Cross said was essentially drafted for a job he didn't want and ultimately left office — and politics — amid scandal.
When talk turned to Kentucky legislative races, Cross thinks the Republicans will fall short of the 10 seats needed to gain control of the state House for the first time in almost a century. He believes the party will fall short, netting only three or four seats, but acknowledged the state is trending Republican.
Cross said House Democrats could endanger themselves in 2014 if they re-draw the House districts with their own personalities and not the reality of the political landscape in mind.