Political Paddock: Campaigns for U.S. Senate and governor collide in Kentucky

Herald-Leader Political WriterJuly 7, 2014 

As Robert Duvall says in Days of Thunder, "rubbin', son, is racing."

So even though two drivers might be on the same racing team, it's still every driver for himself, and herself, when the flag drops.

That's also the case in Kentucky politics these days, as Democrats trade paint with other Democrats, and Republicans risk a potential two-year pile-up.

With the second-quarter fundraising deadline at the end of June, a few obvious examples jump out that might have party leaders reaching for the caution flag:

Heiner vs. McConnell

There was much speculation this year that U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell really wanted former Louisville Metro councilman Hal Heiner to get in the 2015 gubernatorial race early. The thinking was that it would help his Senate race. If true, surely McConnell must think the machine he helped create has turned on him.

Heiner is campaigning on a message that sounds a lot like that of McConnell opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes, railing against "career politicians" and proclaiming that only an "outsider" can effect real change and get Kentucky's economy working.

On Monday, Heiner announced that he put $4 million of his money into his campaign for governor. Does anyone think McConnell is thrilled by the idea of Heiner spreading an anti-incumbent message for the next few months with that kind of cheddar?

What's more, Heiner's message is attracting a lot of the same people who backed McConnell's primary opponent, Matt Bevin, some of whom were so furious about the results of the May primary that they said Republicans should stay home in November.

Republican activist Jeff Buis, among the most vocal pro-Bevin, anti-McConnell GOPers in the land this past spring, walked with Heiner on Friday in the Campbellsville Fourth of July parade.

Joe Burgan, Heiner's campaign manager, said Heiner was honored to have the support of Buis and other Republicans, including Larry Cox, a former top aide to McConnell.

"We're going to need all of the Republicans to win next November, so we welcome their support," Burgan said.

Some friendly advice for Heiner: When you see a 202 area code pop up on your cellphone, let it go to voice mail.

Conway vs. Grimes

The day Attorney General Jack Conway announced he was running for governor in May, the Democrat insisted he was not going to interfere in any way with Grimes' efforts to deny McConnell a sixth term.

"I'm not going to put any kind of expectation on a June 30 fundraising number," he declared.

But on June 30, hours before the fundraising deadline, Conway emailed his supporters for help while "facing a critical test."

"We're $3,441 away from our goal," he wrote. "I need your help to ensure that we're able to fight and succeed."

Conway said that when he spoke with Grimes before making his announcement, she wondered aloud why he wouldn't wait until the annual Fancy Farm picnic on the first Saturday of August to enter the race. And other Democrats, including House Speaker Greg Stumbo and potential Conway challenger Daniel Mongiardo, have said that no Democrats should announce their candidacy before November, lest they distract from Grimes' energy or fundraising resources.

The Conway camp said Monday that the fundraising target was for internal purposes only, and really, it would be political malpractice to start a campaign without budget goals.

But if Conway announces a big number this week and Grimes' slips, it's safe to say all the talk about the unprecedented unity of the Democratic Party in Kentucky this year should be taken with a grain of salt.

Comer vs. House GOP

It wasn't that long ago that Agriculture Commissioner James Comer said it would be "selfish" for a Republican to get in the 2015 gubernatorial race before November because statehouse Republicans needed all the money and attention they could get as they try to retake the lower chamber for the first time in almost a century.

But last week, Comer told the Herald-Leader he would announce his gubernatorial intentions the week of the Fancy Farm picnic, with an official campaign kickoff likely in mid-September.

Comer said "99 percent" of all fundraising by House Republican candidates would be completed by the time he announces. The last 60 days of a campaign, he said, are focused on getting out the vote.

"That's political science 101," Comer said. "If I get in the race a few months earlier than I first intended, it's still not in any way going to hamper any of our House candidates around the state."

But after a little digging, the Heiner camp disagreed with Comer's reading of the fundraising calendar.

Burgan, Heiner's campaign manager, listed 10 House races in 2012 in which the Republican candidates raised at least 25 percent of their total haul after Sept. 1.

Dalton Jantzen, who narrowly lost to Democratic state Rep. Jeff Greer, raised 90 percent of his $47,000 after that date. State Rep. Lynn Bechler, R-Marion, raised 86 percent of his total after Sept. 1.

House Minority Whip John Carney, R-Campbellsville, said Monday that forces beyond Comer's control required that he get in the race sooner than planned, and that criticizing him for doing so was "unfair and unnecessary."

"There are very few people, if anybody, that has done more for House Republicans in the last couple years ... than Commissioner Jamie Comer," Carney said.

Political Paddock includes Sam Youngman's observations from the campaign trail. Sam Youngman: (502) 875-3793. Email: syoungman@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @samyoungman. Blog: Bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com.

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