Kelly Craft is making a lot of unforced errors over empty chairs. Can she turn it around? | Opinion

Ryan C. Hermens/

Either gubernatorial candidate Kelly Craft is getting bad advice or she is fundamentally misunderstanding the “empty chair” mess she’s in right now.

As a new but well-funded candidate, she came out of the gate with her first highly produced ad about an empty chair at the table because of drug addiction. As everyone in Kentucky understands, an empty chair means someone died of that disease, not that they went to rehab and returned. A simple apology would have done, a pledge to understand the issue better, and then a move to the next topic.

But instead the Craft campaign doubled down with another ad, featuring her running mate’s wife trying to explain that she knew what Craft really meant, that empty chairs can be for returning loves ones, too. Then on Thursday night, LEX18 reported that her campaign blocked a group of grieving mothers who have lost children showed up at a campaign event to protest and get real answers about what she’s going to do about the crisis.

“I don’t understand why she’s telling people that she understands this and she’s experienced the same loss when she hasn’t,” Hildi Singer, who lost her 24-year-old son, Jaden, told reporter Ricky Sayer.

Craft told LEX18 she didn’t see the protesters, saying she was focused on the people at the event.

But what a lost opportunity. What if, instead, Craft had turned her back on the people, who probably paid a hefty price tag to see her, and sat down with those moms in the hallway. She could have said: “I am so sorry about your loss and I want to know what you think needs to happen to fix it.”

There could have been a beautiful, emotional, unscripted moment on the campaign trail, recorded by the diligent Sayer, who instead caught another gaffe. Two missed opportunities — the correct and compassionate thing to do, and sheer campaign gold for a candidate with all the money in the world but poor name recognition.

What’s even more of a shame is that Craft is on to something with a focus on Kentucky’s drug problems. We have one of the highest overdose rates in the country, which has led to some of the highest incarceration rates, which has led to the some of the highest rates of child abuse and neglect, plus overloaded foster care systems and poor labor participation rates. She could come out swinging as a woman who understands the emotional and policy sides of one of Kentucky’s most intractable issues. The brigade of empty chair moms could be her fiercest advocates.

As the only woman — and the richest candidate — Craft is going to come in for extra criticism. But showing humility and compassion is not weakness. Instead with last night’s event, she’s turned potential allies into antagonists, and prolonged the news cycle a little longer in what’s going to be a very long campaign season. It just goes to show that money can’t buy everything, especially emotional intelligence and common sense.