Conway, P'Pool to square off in attorney general's race this fall

bmusgrave@herald-leader.comMay 18, 2011 

FRANKFORT — The election for the state's top law enforcement job will pit Democratic incumbent Attorney General Jack Conway against Hopkins County Attorney Todd P'Pool.

Both Conway and P'Pool ran unopposed in their respective primaries.

The attorney general's race promises to be one of the most-watched this fall as Republicans try to take the position away from Democrats for the first time in recent history.

Republicans are gunning for Conway, who was first elected to the position in 2007. Conway lost a high-profile race for U.S. Senate in November 2010 to Republican upstart and Tea Party favorite Rand Paul.

"I think people are a little weary of Jack," said Ted Jackson, a Republican strategist based in Louisville. "He just lost a race. I think Jack also looks like a very reluctant candidate. Forty-eight hours before he announced he was going to seek re-election, everyone thought he was out of the race."

Conway, 41, said in an interview that the two elections are different. He is running on his record as attorney general, a job he loves, he said.

"I am very, very proud of the record of this office and want to continue with it," Conway said.

Under his leadership, the office established a cyber crimes unit, which has successfully removed more than 200,000 pornographic images of children from the Internet. His office has trained more than 1,000 local law enforcement officers on cyber crimes detection, he said.

He also has established a law enforcement task force to combat prescription drug abuse and has toured the state talking to high school students about the dangers of prescription drugs. Conway said he has been able to accomplish those things despite a shrinking budget.

"We've had to cut our budget by 30 percent," Conway said.

Although he faced no opponent, P'Pool has been a regular on the campaign circuit this spring, drumming up financial support. P'Pool also touts his experience as a two-term county attorney, including his early involvement starting a 60-bed drug treatment center in Dixon in Webster County.

"I want to lead the discussion on the drug epidemic in Kentucky," P'Pool said. "I have been tackling that issue before I was ever in elected office."

P'Pool has out-raised Conway, taking in more than $466,467 to date, compared with Conway's reported total of $166,353. About $250,000 of that money was a personal loan from P'Pool, according to the latest campaign finance reports.

P'Pool also has picked up support from powerful Republican allies. U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell held a fund-raiser for him in April.

Conway said money will not be a problem, noting he successfully raised millions of dollars in his U.S. Senate race and previous race for attorney general. Many early polls show Conway leading P'Pool by more than 20 percentage points.

Danny Briscoe, a Democratic campaign consultant, said Conway will be helped by the top of the Democratic ticket. Incumbent Gov. Steve Beshear has an early lead in polling over Republican Senate President David Williams. Conway also will benefit from being a familiar name, Briscoe said.

"He has a good base in Jefferson County," Briscoe said. "He probably has 100 percent name recognition."

But Briscoe noted that Conway will have to run as his own candidate and separate himself from President Barack Obama, whose approval rating in Kentucky is low.

P'Pool said he is running because he thinks Conway has not done enough to help the state's coal industry and did not join a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Obama-backed overhaul of medical care.

"I was very concerned that Jack Conway is absent in the fight against Obama Care," P'Pool said. "I believe that it is unconstitutional."

P'Pool, in campaign spots and in interviews, also pledges to support the coal industry, which he says is under attack by unfair regulations imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency.

"My dad was a coal miner. My grandfather was a coal miner. I have cousins who are coal miners," P'Pool said. "Kentucky coal put food on my table and gave me an education at the University of Kentucky."

Conway counters that he stepped up for Kentucky's coal industry by joining a lawsuit with several other attorneys general challenging the EPA's attempt to regulate carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas in March 2010. That lawsuit is ongoing.

P'Pool successfully ran for county attorney in 2006 and in 2010. In 2010, Democrat John Whitfield challenged some of P'Pool's expenses as county attorney, including a $230 check for a day spa.

P'Pool said the expense was for a workshop held by his office's child support division to teach about stress. P'Pool said the office holds similar workshops as a way to cut health insurance premiums.

"I reimbursed it out of my own pocket, even though I didn't attend," P'Pool said.

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