Drew Curtis was finding his groove as a political candidate.
Curtis, the independent candidate for governor, had turned some heads at the first televised gubernatorial debate in mid-September, and the fundraising and interest in his campaign appeared to be gaining steam.
Then, about two weeks later, Curtis had what can only be described as a very bad day, and whatever momentum was forming behind his campaign began to evaporate.
It began with a debate hosted by Kentucky Sports Radio, in which Matt Bevin, the Republican candidate, accused Curtis of voting for President Barack Obama when Curtis said he didn't remember who he had voted for.
The unprompted attack from a major-party candidate was a sure sign that at least someone was worried that Curtis was charging.
Then host Matt Jones asked the three candidates who they would support for president next year.
Curtis disputes that his response — support for Donald Trump — hurt him with liberal Democrats who had been looking at his campaign, but he issued an apology nonetheless.
What really hurt, he said, was the Bluegrass Poll that came out later that day showing Curtis stuck in single digits and below the polling threshold that the remainder of the televised debates would require for admission.
Curtis had been hearing that the Bluegrass debate, which took place at Bellarmine University, had resulted in surging poll numbers, and he was told that both Republicans and Democrats had internal numbers that showed him moving up to anywhere between 12 percent and 20 percent.
But the Bluegrass Poll showed that neither he nor the other two candidates had moved at all, and Curtis was stuck at 7 percent.
"That sucked, actually, because that was also the day that KSR dropped too, so that was a one-two punch," Curtis said. "It wasn't the Trump comment that did it. It was that poll."
Over coffee on a beautiful Lexington afternoon Friday, Curtis talked with the Herald-Leader at length about what he has learned from his first political campaign, his chances going forward and whether he will consider running again.
Far from moored by talking points and party responsibilities, Curtis talked openly about the challenges facing him with just more than two weeks until voters go to the polls.
With his poll numbers seemingly stuck and not enough money to get on television to introduce himself to the 75 percent of voters who don't know much about him, Curtis didn't hesitate when the Herald-Leader asked him if he can still win.
"Probably not unless something substantially changes, but maybe," Curtis said. "If nothing changes, no."
Still, Curtis is still optimistic that a confluence of events might give him an opening.
Curtis' reasoning goes like this: If Democrat Jack Conway drops opposition research on Bevin that makes the Republican go "super nova," losing his temper and irreparably damaging his prospects, Democrats who don't like Conway will think it's safe to venture out and vote for Curtis because they won't be worried that their vote for an independent could swing the race in favor of Bevin.
"Democrats are holding the line because they are scared to death," Curtis said. "I hear it all the time, all the time: 'You're the better candidate. I like you better than Jack. But I can't let you let Bevin win.'"
Curtis said he recently talked to a down-ballot Democratic candidate who told him that Democrats are "anticipating that I'm going to do far better than anybody thinks, possibly pulling into second."
"And he said, 'You're not going to get enough of them to win, but you're going to surprise people,'" Curtis relayed. "And that was actually my call all along."
Through late September, Curtis saw signs that he was taking support from Bevin, noticing changes in the Republican's message that sounded a lot like what Curtis was saying.
"They were terrified," Curtis said. "That's why he copied me. I'm killing him, and they know it."
But, he added, "the problem was I was hoping a poll would show that."
Still, Curtis takes pride and credit for the pension crisis being front-and-center in the campaign.
As the race stands now, Curtis believes Conway is headed toward a win on Nov. 3, but he believes either candidate will enter office to discover that they are looking at the end of their political careers because of the massive pension crisis facing the state.
"They're going to walk right into that pension crisis, and boom, they're dead," Curtis said.
Far from embittered or upset by the current trajectory of the race, Curtis does think he could have beaten either candidate one-on-one.
"I would be beating either one of these guys head-to-head as a party," Curtis said. "If I was a Republican, I'd be owning Jack Conway. If I was a Democrat, I'd be destroying Matt Bevin. There's no doubt."
That belief, coupled with the hard-learned lessons about the inherent disadvantages of running as an independent, have given Curtis an idea about how a true independent candidate might be able to find success running within the existing party structure.
And Curtis said both parties have approached him about running in the future as one of their own.
"It might be a winnable theory to run as a party guy and totally blow the party off," he said. "Because that's essentially what happened with Bevin, and he's still in it."
But Curtis said he isn't thinking about another race right now.
He's working on a book about his experience as a candidate and considering some other projects, like a Silicon Valley investment bank a friend of his is trying to start.
Curtis' wife and running mate, Heather, has caught the political bug, though, and Curtis said he thinks she might run in the future, having discovered through the campaign process that there are ways to bring positive change as a public official.
But Curtis said he has no interest in running for the state House or Senate.
"Being a legislator sucks," Curtis said. "You can't make change doing that. The executive level's where it's at."
But will Curtis, who said he has learned from a couple of "rookie mistakes," make another run?
"Would I ever do this again? I don't know," Curtis said. "The answer is maybe, but it would have to be unusual circumstances. Not exactly this ever again."
He added: "I'm still not a politician. That was the one thing I wanted to make sure happened is that I didn't change. And I'm not actually.
"I still think that what I'm trying to do is doable."