Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer raised more than half a million dollars during his first three weeks as an announced candidate in the 2015 gubernatorial race.
He'll probably need every penny of it, considering that high jinks are already underway more than seven months before Republicans choose their nominee.
Comer's campaign reported late Monday afternoon that it had raised $540,000 in the 22 days between his announcement Sept. 9 in Tompkinsville and the end of the third-quarter fundraising period on Sept. 30.
That eye-popping amount — made more impressive considering that state fundraising laws limit donations to $1,000 a person — are likely to satisfy any concerns that Comer's supporters have harbored about whether he can raise enough money to compete with former Louisville Metro Councilman Hal Heiner.
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Heiner, who by the end of June had raised $194,000 in individual contributions, enjoys a daunting financial advantage over Comer after putting $4.2 million of his own money in the race. He has not yet reported campaign contributions for the third quarter.
As the money flows into the race, so does the mud.
Last week, as the fundraising quarter came to an end, several Kentucky Republicans who support Comer reported receiving an automated call that they described as a "push poll" about the GOP primary.
Joe Burgan, Heiner's campaign manager, said his campaign had nothing to do with the calls.
"The Heiner campaign has done absolutely no polling of any kind since late July," Burgan said. "Further, the Heiner campaign has never fielded a negative 'push poll' and never will. Any assertion to the contrary is completely, unequivocally false."
According to several Kentuckians who were polled, the calls asked respondents who they would vote for in a race among Heiner, Comer and former U.S. Senate candidate Matt Bevin. After initial questions testing which candidate the respondent would prefer in an election, the automated caller read a series of statements about Heiner and Comer, according to several people who received the call but did not record it.
"The longer it went, I just felt like they were really trashing James Comer," said Connie Owens of Corbin.
Owens said she is a lifelong Republican who has met Comer but doesn't know him well.
Scott Douglas, who told the Herald-Leader he has supported Comer since "day one," also said he received a call from the pollster. He said that "all the statements about Comer were negative, and all the statements about Heiner were positive."
Douglas said, "It's pretty obvious where the call came from, because when the survey isolated just two for the head to head, it was just Heiner and Comer, and the survey never made any statements positive or negative about Bevin."
Bevin and former U.S. Ambassador to Latvia Cathy Bailey have both said they are considering entering the race after this year's election is over.
Holly Harris-Von Luehrte, Comer's top aide, said she learned of the "desperate and misleading push poll just as James Comer was walking into an event to support our statehouse candidates."
Harris-Von Luehrte stopped short of accusing Heiner of orchestrating the push poll, but she said, "Obviously someone with some money to spend is deeply threatened by James Comer."
"Clearly, the poll backfired badly," Harris-Von Luehrte said. "James Comer is talking about making life better for all Kentuckians. That's what people really want."
Maybe, but with four weeks to go in this year's tense and sometimes nasty election, what people might really want is at least a brief break in the mud-slinging between elections.