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Gov. Ernie Fletcher, with his wife, Glenna, and backed by state Finance Secretary Robbie Rudolph and his wife Lisa, speaks to the press after naming Rudolph as his running mate in his 2007 re-election campaign Saturday, June 3, 2006, at the Republican State Central Committee meeting in Louisville.

Gov. Ernie Fletcher quickly filled a political void Saturday by naming state Finance Secretary Robbie Rudolph as his running mate for his 2007 re-election campaign after being spurned by his lieutenant governor.

The Republican governor, interrupting a Florida vacation to tend to the political upheaval, vigorously touted his accomplishments in office and vowed to press forward in the face of his indictment as part of an investigation into whether his administration based personnel decisions on political considerations.

"I'm very excited about running and I've got the fire in the belly to do it and we're going to get it done," Fletcher told reporters after speaking to a state Republican gathering that gave him series of standing ovations.

It was Fletcher's first public appearance in Kentucky since Lt. Gov. Steve Pence told him recently he would not be part of the governor's ticket next year and then turned down Fletcher's request that he step down as second in charge.

Pence also spoke at the state GOP central committee meeting Saturday and then looked on as Fletcher introduced Rudolph has his possible successor.

"I'm absolutely honored to be with my friend, Gov. Ernie Fletcher," said Rudolph, who ran as part of a slate that lost to the Fletcher-Pence team in the 2003 GOP primary but has since become part of Fletcher's inner circle.

Rudolph told reporters that he and Fletcher make a "great working team."

"We agree on almost everything _ quite frankly I can't think of anything we do disagree on," he said.

The race will be the 50-year-old Rudolph's second attempt at winning the lieutenant governor's office. He served as a running mate to former Jefferson County Judge-Executive Rebecca Jackson in 2003 in the Republican primary.

Rudolph, founder and owner of a Murray wholesale tire company, later served on Fletcher's transition team before being tapped to head the Finance Cabinet.

Rudolph told reporters Saturday that he would likely step down as finance secretary to avoid any potential conflicts in awarding state contracts. But, Rudolph said, he would remain a part of the governor's inner circle.

Rudolph called Pence a friend but said he thought Pence should leave the administration. "I think it would be best that he would resign," Rudolph said.

Fletcher said he called a number of supporters to ask about his choice for a running mate. They expressed overwhelming support for Rudolph, Fletcher said.

Fletcher, asked if Rudolph, a wealthy businessman, will dip into his own funds to help bankroll the campaign, replied, "I don't think that will be necessary."

Jefferson County GOP Chairman Jack Richardson IV said afterward that Rudolph was a "logical choice" as a key member of Fletcher's administration.

"Robbie's been there through a lot of the tough times, so I'm sure that there's been developed a certain degree of loyalty there," he said.

Asked if Fletcher helped himself with fellow Republicans with his appearance, Richardson said, "I think he gave a powerful and impassioned speech, but we'll just have to see."

Fletcher, Kentucky's first Republican governor since 1971, was indicted recently on misdemeanor charges alleging he broke state law by rewarding political supporters with state jobs after he took office.

Last summer, he issued a blanket pardon for anyone in his administration who might face charges in the probe _ except himself.

Since a Franklin County special grand jury began its work last June, it has returned 29 indictments in the case _ 14 of which remain sealed.

In his speech to the GOP gathering Saturday, Pence repeated that he intended to remain in office until the end of his term. He said he planned to be a working lieutenant governor but didn't specify what he would be doing. Pence also has said he would sever his duties as head of the state's Justice Cabinet.

Pence, a former federal prosecutor, said he had no plans to run for office.

"It has been one of the greatest honors and privileges of my life, governor, to serve as lieutenant governor," Pence said.

On Saturday, Fletcher and Pence shook hands briefly before the GOP meeting began but sat three rows apart. Pence spoke just before Fletcher.

Fletcher wouldn't offer details of his conversation with Pence when the lieutenant governor informed him by telephone that he wouldn't be on the ticket next year. Fletcher described the discussion as "cordial."

"We have some disagreements, but that doesn't mean that we still can't be friends and cordial," Fletcher said.

Fletcher said he does not expect to have a Republican opponent in his re-election bid next year and cited the rousing response he got from the Republican crowd just a few minutes earlier.

"We've had some very difficult times," Fletcher told reporters. "Clearly that's going to generate some discussion, but I don't think there's anything serious there."

Asked if he was ready to endorse Fletcher as the Republican nominee for governor in 2007, Darrell Brock, chairman of the state Republican party, replied "we're focused on 2006."

Brock said Saturday's events show that state Republicans are united, but he wouldn't comment on whether he thinks Fletcher might face a GOP challenger in 2007.

Richard Grana, McCracken County's GOP chairman, said he would "unequivocally" support Fletcher in 2007. He said it was a good move by Fletcher to interrupt his vacation to speak to the Republican group.

"I think it was a good shot in the arm," Grana said.

Jeff Hoover, the Republican state House leader, was among those who stressed unity for a party that has eclipsed once-dominant Democrats in Kentucky. Republicans control both U.S. Senate seats, all but one U.S. House seat, the state Senate and have closed the gap with majority Democrats in the state House.

Hoover said voters were watching closely to see how Republicans respond to Pence withdrawing from the ticket. Hoover said Republicans need to keep such disagreements "private, among ourselves and within the family of Republicans."

"At the end of the day, it's not about individual goals, it's not about selfish goals, it's not about what we want to do individually, or who's going to be in power or who's going to be in control," said Hoover, a Jamestown Republican. "It's about what are we doing for the people of Kentucky. If we ever lose sight of that ... we will no longer be in these public offices."

In his speech, Fletcher also touted his administration's successes that he said include overhauls of the state tax code and the cash-strapped Medicaid system, as well as improvements to education and highway safety. But he acknowledged that he has encountered a series of difficulties.

"We haven't been perfect and we've been in some very bizarre political situations in Frankfort," Fletcher said.

Fletcher also took aim Attorney General Greg Stumbo, a Democrat, whose office is leading the hiring investigation.

"We will not give up, we will not let up. We will not let Stumbo and his minions run us out of town," Fletcher said, drawing one of the largest ovations from the crowd.



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