UNION — Prolific Republican fundraiser Richard Knock made sure his attorney was one of the 25 or so Republicans dining on chicken salad sandwiches at the Triple Crown Country Club Friday afternoon.
As he spoke, Knock interrupted himself occasionally, looked to the table near the back of the small dining room and asked if he had said anything that might get him in trouble.
"Am I doing OK so far, counselor?" Knock asked.
Knock had a special guest on hand as he announced he was firing back up a Super PAC that helped U.S. Sen. Rand Paul and U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie get elected, and he wanted to make sure he wasn't running afoul of the laws prohibiting coordination between political action committees and candidates.
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Knock's guest was Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, and they both stressed that the mission of AmeriGOP in 2014 is to elect Republicans to the state House and try to win back GOP control of the chamber for the first time since 1921.
The PAC is not, both men repeatedly clarified, in any way trying to elect Comer to the governor's mansion in 2015.
At least not yet.
Unspoken was the accusation that a similar PAC — "that one out of Louisville," as Knock put it — is hiding its mission of electing to the governor's office its head, former Louisville Metro councilman Hal Heiner.
"I don't know him at all, so therefore I'm not speaking disparagingly of him," Knock told the Herald-Leader Thursday night. "And I'm not going to name the two prominent donors who came to me and wanted to talk to me about the AmericGOP because they supported another PAC and they felt the PAC was being somewhat commandeered by the Heiner group to support his governorship."
Heiner launched New Direction Kentucky in late January with the same stated purpose as AmeriGOP.
Heiner, who has said he intends to announce a run for governor early this year, sparked a war of words when he went public with his PAC, continuing the early jockeying for position between him and Comer ahead of what is shaping up to be a fierce battle for the Republican nomination.
At the time, Comer said he was "110 percent" in favor of Heiner's group as long as it "has the primary objective to support Republican House members."
"But if it becomes a vehicle by which to promote Hal Heiner for governor, then obviously there will be some legal issues there," said Comer, who is expected to announce a run for governor after the November election. "We'll have to see how it spends its money. The roll-out today was all about him. I think the focus should be on House Republican candidates."
Heiner's staff was mystified by the veiled accusations Friday and welcomed Knock and AmeriGOP to the battlefront.
"We could not be more excited that so many people are joining us in the effort to retake the House," said Joe Burgan, spokesman for New Direction Kentucky.
Knock isn't shy about his admiration for Comer and he isn't ruling out supporting him in a gubernatorial bid. But the Northern Kentucky Republican repeatedly made clear that he does not want to confuse the missions.
"I want to make it abundantly clear this is not a platform for anybody to run for governor," Knock said. "This is strictly an effort to concentrate on 10 candidates that we have identified, vetted and feel are well-qualified for the statehouse."
AmeriGOP won't get involved in Republican primaries, he said.
Instead, they intend to promote Republican House candidates Keith Travis in the 6th District, Alan Braden in the 13th, Alex LaRue in the 24th, Jim DuPlessis in the 25th, Jerry Miller in the 36th, Jonah Mitchell in the 39th, Mike Nemes in the 49th, James Allen Tipton in the 53rd, Mark Hart in the 78th, and George Myers in Lexington's 79th District, which is represented by Democratic Rep. Susan Westrom.
Comer spoke to the group after Knock, telling them of the importance of winning control of the House and stressing the need to stay focused on 2014.
"This is for the House," Comer said. "Not any one individual. This is for (Republican House leader) Jeff Hoover and flipping the House."
Democrats now hold a 54-46 majority in the House.
Knock is a believer in Comer, but said he wants the commissioner to be a "cheerleader for fundraising" as the group seeks to raise at least $150,000 for the candidates they have selected.
When asked if AmeriGOP might change missions after 2014 and raise money to help Comer, Knock didn't rule it out. "That could happen, but right now I don't want to lose focus on what we're trying to do," he said.