More than two years ahead of a potential gubernatorial bid, Democrat Crit Luallen reached out to the United Mine Workers of America on Thursday, giving assurances of her support for organized labor and coal.
Luallen, a former two-term state auditor, told UMWA members in Lexington that she will be "making a decision soon" about the governor's race, drawing applause from the all-male audience gathered in a conference room at the Embassy Suites hotel.
"Whatever my future holds, we need leaders who will go to battle for the working men and women of this state and this nation," she said. "The first thing that we have to do is work with all our heart to protect the jobs that we have. Coal matters in Kentucky, and coal will matter in Kentucky as long as there is coal to be mined. And anybody who doesn't believe that doesn't understand the history and culture and the economy of the Appalachian counties or the western coalfields."
Union members gave a not-so-subtle hint about their early gubernatorial favorite by having Luallen at the Lexington meeting. She was the only one of a large field of potential candidates invited.
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As Luallen worked the crowded room, several UMWA members privately urged her to enter the race. "We'll be behind you," said Mason Caudill, a retired miner from Middlesboro.
Luallen had the endorsement of the UMWA both times that she ran for auditor.
"I've never met anyone who possesses the integrity and the credibility and the character that Crit Luallen has," said Steve Earle, a regional UMWA vice president.
Luallen, who served as a senior aide to former Gov. Paul Patton, has made no secret of her interest in running in 2015. Reaching out to miners is a crucial first step in a major coal-producing state like Kentucky.
Other potential candidates to replace the term-limited Gov. Steve Beshear include Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson, former Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo, former U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler, Attorney General Jack Conway, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, House Speaker Greg Stumbo and state Auditor Adam Edelen.
In Luallen's speech to the UMWA, she touted Grimes as a potential challenger to U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell next year now that actress Ashley Judd has bowed out.
"I know Alison Lundergan Grimes well," Luallen said. "She is an outstanding young woman who has tremendous potential and a very clean record, clean slate. It will be difficult for the other side to attack her from any direction. She's a friend of the working people of Kentucky. She's a strong Democrat and I think we will see her emerge as a potential candidate."