Attorney General Jack Conway continued his effort to lock up the Democratic nomination in next year's race for governor with an overwhelming show of force, announcing Tuesday that he has raised more than $750,000 since entering the race in early May.
Conway and his running mate, Democratic state Rep. Sannie Overly of Paris, reported having more than $700,000 in cash on hand.
Several other Democrats are considering a run for governor after this year's elections are over, but Conway has moved quickly to consolidate Democratic support, announcing his large fundraising haul after rolling out a series of major endorsements.
"Sannie and I are honored by the bipartisan support we've received from friends across Kentucky who believe in our vision of creating better jobs, building infrastructure and investing in early childhood and higher education," Conway said in a statement. "We have a proven record of experience and following through on the commitments we've made to the people of this state. We are uniting Democrats and hard-working Kentuckians who believe that together we can build a better commonwealth to live, work and raise our families."
But other potential candidates have watched Conway's early campaign unfold with anger, convinced that Conway is distracting from a bid by Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes to unseat U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
"The only thing Jack Conway's fundraising effort does is take money from Alison Grimes' effort to retire Mitch McConnell," said former lieutenant governor and possible 2015 candidate Daniel Mongiardo. "Alison deserves better. Our party deserves better. Should I decide to run for governor, it will not only be a campaign for our commonwealth's future, it will be a campaign for the soul of our Democratic Party."
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said in a statement that he has "not ruled out running, but my priority is raising money for the Democrats who are on the ballot this year, especially my House members and Alison Lundergan Grimes."
"I will focus on the governor's race when we get through with these," Stumbo said. "Personal ambition should never outweigh the bigger picture."
In Tuesday's news release, the Conway campaign said it had held two fundraising events, "keeping the commitment to avoid fundraising conflicts with Alison Lundergan Grimes and the Kentucky House Democratic Caucus."
Conway's $750,000 haul represents "a good start" for his campaign, said Western Kentucky University political science professor Scott Lasley, a Republican. "But it's probably the lowest hanging fruit, the easiest money for him to raise."
Lasley said criticism by some Democrats that Conway is raising money for next year while he should be concentrating on helping candidates on the ballot this year is predictable.
"I don't see what Conway is doing affecting the fundraising of Grimes and state House Democratic candidates," Lasley said. "Most people who donate early to campaigns are able to give to others."
He noted that the criticism primarily is coming from Conway's potential primary election opponents.
"It's important for Conway to start early raising money," Lasley said "The primary election is less than a year away."
Reporter Jack Brammer contributed to this story. Sam Youngman: (502) 875-3793. Twitter: @samyoungman. Blog: Bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com.