What Do Turkeys and the Kentucky U.S. Senate Race have in Common?

photoTurkeys don’t have much at all to do with the Kentucky Senate race… until now. Senator Mitch McConnell’s (R) United States Senate seat is up for grabs this year and four Democratic candidates settle comfortably as the January 28, 2014 marked the deadline to file documents to run for the office. If you’ve missed out on Alison Lundergan Grimes run for the ticket, you’ve been in hiding. But yes, there are three others. Who are they? Let’s take a closer look at one candidate who just might receive a little attention in this campaign.

University of Louisville Department of Communications professor Dr. Greg Leichty filed his election documents January 16 for the Kentucky Primary Senate race to be held on May 20, 2014. No, he’s not a turkey, but rather a well educated nerdy intellect that spent his younger days on a turkey farm in Iowa. Leichty’s sharecropper dad farmed turkeys, dairy cattle, and hogs. Leichty often shares his turkey story when he speaks at events.

Rumburgh Suffolk“When I was about seven years old, I’d go out in the field with my Dad, and he’d set out the water and feed, and I’d walk around in the field, and the turkeys would follow me around. There could be three or four thousand thirty pound tom turkeys; I could get a couple hundred following me, and then I’d turn around and start talking to them. And when I stopped talking they would all gobble in collective chorus. So that’s when I started giving speeches. I gave speeches to the turkeys and the louder I talked, the more enthusiastic they got. To those turkeys, style was everything; substance was nothing. So the point is if you just primarily want approval in life, the applause of turkeys is pretty easy to find.”

But Leichty wants more than applause from turkeys, he seeks to engage and debate folks with his campaign speeches. He does not expect praise and attention, but wishes to start a dialogue about the return of self-governance to our state and country.

Brand spanking new in the political arena, Leichty, (pronounced “lick-tee”) a 55 year old tall, slim, balding man, was born in Iowa. He received his B.A. sociology at Goshen College in Indiana. He received his Ph.D. Communication at University of Kentucky. In 1986 he started his career as an Assistant Professor at University of South Alabama until 1991, where he then came to University of Louisville’s Department of Communication. He’s been a professor at U of L for almost 23 years where he teaches communications courses Arguments in Everyday Life, Research Methods, and graduate level Conflict Management.

Leichty admits his run for the Senate is a long shot. Ironically, he turned in his application to his opponent, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D), who is the apparent front-runner for the Democratic U.S. Senate ticket. His campaign Mission states a desire “To reestablish common ground in our political discourse”, that also echoes in his campaign slogan: “Let’s Make Choices About Our Future”, both found on his Facebook page, and website.  Leichty says of his motivation to run: “We are in danger of losing our republic, we are in real danger of losing the ability of citizens to influence their government and I would just simply go back to the phrase of Abraham Lincoln’s ‘Government of the people, by the people, and for the people…’”. 

Leichty plans no formal campaign fundraisers or to hire a campaign staff, and expects only minimal expenses such as traveling the state of Kentucky and possibly social media site ads. Any funds raised go towards campaign site expenses. His team consists of an unpaid intern, and a myriad of volunteer political advisors. He plans to gain attention primarily by attending community events held by organizations such as Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, Kentucky Young Democrats and the Kentucky Arts Council. He plans to visit Hazard, Pikeville, Ashland, Covington, Lexington, Owensboro, Hopkinsville, and Frankfort between now and the end of March. Leichty also recently announced that he has accepted an invitation to participate in a debate hosted by KET’s Kentucky Tonight program to broadcast live on April 28, at 8:00pm ET.

Another networking vehicle Leichty heavily uses is online social media with the use of his blog, Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter (@CuriousGreg). Leichty says that online is where the opinion leaders can be found, and they are the ones who can help to share the message with those that they influence. Leichty wants the public to know that, “if you speak to Greg Leichty in his social media, it will be Greg Leichty that responds”, not a staff member.

But will networking in the communities and social media be enough to get his name on the map? Can he compete with Alison Lundergan Grimes and possibly Mitch McConnell who have both already raised millions for their campaigns? Grimes is doubtfully shaking in her boots, but Leichty is categorically on her radar as her top political operatives showed up at the Shelby County Democrats Chili Dinner Fundraiser that Leichty publicly stated he would attend. Prior to his arrival, the campaign manager of Grimes distributed campaign paraphernalia to the attendees. Grimes did not respond to a request for comment.

Dr. Dewey M. Clayton, Ph. D., University of Louisville Political Science Professor states that professors running for political office typically do not fair well. He says that a Senate Campaign requires a lot of money, and that Leichty needs to convince the public that he is a viable candidate without the capital. But, Clayton offers that Leichty may be able to force the other candidates to at least tackle issues that they otherwise would not. Clayton further thinks that Grimes, although she may not win, will be a tough match for McConnell as the campaign gains momentum, and we’ve already seen this in the latest polls released by the The Courier-Journal that showed Grimes with a lead over McConnell at 46 to 42.

So how does Leichty’s platform differ from Grimes? They are both in favor of women’s issues and raising the minimum wage. But Leichty differentiates himself from Grimes in the following areas: he pledged he will not serve more than two terms, as he supports term limits; he supports a balanced budget amendment; he opposes influence of money and lobbying in the political process; he is strongly in favor of regulating the banks, particularly the bank’s ability to play the stock market; he favors a carbon tax; he opposes foreign involvement in international conflicts . Leichty pointed out that one stark difference between Leichty and Grimes is that Grimes’ political platform focuses on Kentucky issues that mirror the campaign of a governor, not a Senator. A U.S. Senator legislates for all of the States as well as globally. Grimes presents little or no insight on foreign policy.

alison_lundergan_grimes_3_ap_605_605Grimes’ campaign heavily targets women and seniors as well as the middle class working and military families. When she ran for Secretary of State, the video that she produced with her two grandmothers “Elsie and Thelma” likely tugged at the heartstrings of both demographic groups. Political heavyweights like President Bill Clinton, Governor Steve Beshear, Senator Wendell Ford, and Congressman John Yarmouth endorse Grimes. In fact, President Clinton will campaign for Grimes in Kentucky on February 25 at a $1000 per plate fundraising dinner. He also produced a video in support of Grimes which can be found on her website. What Grimes also has going for her is that she is young, attractive, has Kentucky roots, and is a compelling, vibrant speaker. Grimes campaign theme that Grandma Elsie quoted in her advertisement is  “What rhymes with Mitch? It’s time to switch!” They are “TEAM SWITCH”.

So, conscious of the fierce competition at stake, what encouraged Leichty to run for office? He and his wife of 33 years, Kathy, took a trip to India to visit some friends. He said that it was a profound experience, an adventure. Leichty realized that it was a good time in his life to do something out of the ordinary. Now that his two daughters, Jana and Kari, are grown, his priorities shifted. He started a small Facebook political group. He said, “sometimes you have to be in the game to win the game”, so he decided to run for office in early 2013.

We should also give a little nod to the other two Democratic candidates running in the Kentucky State Primary for U.S. Senate on May 20. They are Burrel Charles Farnsley, son of former Louisville Mayor late Charles Farnsley, who filed his election documents Jan. 13th, and Tom Recktenwald who filed late 2013.

Farnsley ran and was defeated five times for District 3 Kentucky House of Representatives, and once for Louisville Mayor in 2010. He campaigns under the radar with no apparent social media or website. Farnsley keeps his campaign strategy a closely guarded secret that perhaps he will reveal at just the right time. In a recent brief interview with Herald Leader journalist Jack Brammer, Farnsley declined to divulge his occupation, or the motive behind his bid for Senate.

Recktenwald, former Naval Ordnance Station worker promises to be “A Senator whose Vote Can not be bought”. Like Leichty, Recktenwald takes advantage of the powerful internet marketing tools with a website, Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube. Recktenwald promises to keep it fresh with new videos every couple of weeks and desires for his messages to go viral. Unfortunately he has not kept his commitment, only posting two videos six months ago, and a third in mid-January. His Facebook page is equally as unimpressive with a grand total of two posts since last July. Recktenwald’s campaign platform is to not accept any campaign funds, and to appeal to “average, everyday Kentuckians”.

Leichty believes that in order to race, you have to run. But let’s hope those turkeys can keep up with him. A little applause might not hurt. Leichty says “If I actually get a chance for a head to head competition, I think I can win”. He thinks the last thing Alison Lundergan Grimes would want to do is debate with her Democratic opponents, but would rather ignore that they exist. Alison, that sounds like a challenge, are you up for it on April 28?

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