Agriculture Commissioner James Comer plans to file paperwork Thursday to officially become a candidate for governor, even as opponent Hal Heiner has already begun airing his first television ads of the year.
Comer is set to file his paperwork with the Secretary of State's office at 9 a.m. Thursday, followed by an "informal" rally with running mate Chris McDaniel and supporters in the Capitol Rotunda.
Meanwhile, Heiner's return to the airwaves is a stark reminder that he is expected to have a significant financial advantage over Comer and former Supreme Court Justice Will T. Scott, the only announced Republican candidates so far.
Heiner, a former Louisville Metro councilman and mayoral candidate, also ran TV ads last year introducing himself.
Comer had raised nearly $1.1 million by the end of 2014, but the independently wealthy Heiner put about $5 million of his own money into the race last year.
Comer told the Herald-Leader Wednesday that he is not concerned that Heiner is already on the air or that he has the funds to run a more aggressive paid-media campaign.
"It takes votes to win elections, and what we've seen time after time with multi-millionaire candidates that don't have any support and just try to win an election by just buying a bunch of TV ads, is it will not work in Kentucky," Comer said. "You can't win an election in Kentucky with just TV ads."
Doug Alexander, Heiner's spokesman, responded by saying that "Kentucky voters are tired of politicians and insiders running Frankfort."
"They are looking for an outsider who can create jobs and get our economy moving," Alexander said.
Heiner's first ad of the year focused on his campaign theme of running against "career politicians" in Frankfort, but Comer said he's proud of his record and his history of traveling around the state.
"I don't think any series of 30-second negative ads are going to change the opinions that Kentuckians have of me," Comer said.
While he declined to say what target date the campaign has set for launching television ads, Comer said "the last 60 days of the election, we'll match him dollar for dollar."
In the meantime, Comer said he will continue to campaign "the old-fashioned way," using a network of farmers and supporters, coordinated by social media, to get his message out.
"We have the organization, we have grassroots support and we have a message that's resonating with the people," Comer said. "That's how I'm going to win the election and overcome his personal wealth."