DENVER — Democratic U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler, who has had a rocky history with U.S. Senate candidate Bruce Lunsford, used his time before Kentucky's delegation at the national convention Tuesday to endorse his former rival in his campaign to unseat Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Chandler, after weeks of avoiding questions about a possible endorsement, made the announcement at the Kentucky delegation's breakfast.
Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo, who is among the 60-Democrat delegation in Denver, said Chandler told the group that he had put behind him the past friction stemming from the 2003 Democratic primary for governor. After Chandler spoke, Lunsford, who was scheduled to address the delegates a few minutes later, got up and embraced Chandler, Mongiardo said.
"I thought that was a very poignant moment because that's an example of how if Democrats come together — especially in Kentucky where we have 1.7 Democrats for every Republican – then Democrats can’t lose elections," Mongiardo said.
Both Chandler's endorsement and the two men's embrace drew standing ovations from the delegates attending the breakfast, Mongiardo said.
Mongiardo, who like Chandler endorsed Barack Obama for president last spring, said he expects this same type of coming together from supporters of Hillary Rodham Clinton, many of whom are still smarting from a hotly-contested presidential primary.
"Just like Ben Chandler's race with Bruce Lunsford in that 2003 primary, there were bruised feelings in the spring," he said. "Sometimes it takes a little time to get over it because we’re very passionate as Democrats."
Lunsford, who is running against Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, said earlier this month that he and Chandler had moved past hard feelings left over from a sometimes brutally negative Democratic primary for governor in 2003.
The two men had talked in December before Lunsford jumped in the Senate race and since the primary, Lunsford said. But he said he didn't expect a formal public endorsement until after the Democratic National Convention.
Chandler had dodged questions all summer about when and whether he would endorse Lunsford, although he confirmed last month that the two men were on better terms now.
Lunsford, a millionaire businessman, spent several million dollars of his own money taking aim at Chandler in 2003. After Chandler struck back with a devastating political ad that touched on a past case of abuse at one of the nursing homes Lunsford's company ran, Lunsford abruptly dropped out of the '03 primary. He later supported GOP gubernatorial candidate Ernie Fletcher over Chandler — a move that many Democrats have only recently begun to forgive Lunsford for.
"It made my trip out here. This is a big deal," said Lunsford in a brief telephone interview from Denver. "Obviously it was humbling and very unexpected. Ben always said he would be for me and he picked his moment."
Lunsford said Chandler chose "as good a moment as he could have" for the endorsement with it coming before dozens of Kentucky's most active Democrats. He said one Chandler-supporter, whom he declined to name, approached him later and agreed to volunteer on his behalf now that Chandler has given Lunsford his blessing.
"This is a coming together that only Ben could do. It wasn’t something that I could make him do," Lunsford said.