LOUISVILLE — Weeks of mudslinging and controversy took a back seat Thursday night as the four Republican candidates for governor laid out their closing arguments just days before Kentuckians are set to go to the polls.
The candidates, speaking at the Jefferson County Lincoln Day Dinner in downtown Louisville, combined their standard stump speeches with arguments about why they and not their opponents are uniquely suited to defeat likely Democratic nominee Jack Conway in the fall election.
It was a peaceful affair, considering the tenor of the campaign.
Only dark-horse candidate and recently retired state Supreme Court Justice Will T. Scott broached the subject of a fractured state Republican Party, divided among the four camps after allegations surfaced that James Comer assaulted his college girlfriend and Hal Heiner's campaign was linked to a blogger who had long circulated rumors to that effect.
Scott, always quick to make the crowd laugh, announced himself as "the only person who could ever put this party back together" the day after next week's primary.
"It's good to be here among friends, even if they're not yours," Scott said. "But they will be."
The rest of the field used the dinner to hone their closing arguments after months of similar events all over the state.
Comer, the state's commissioner of agriculture, kicked off his remarks by praising the leadership of the Jefferson County Republican Party, applauding their efforts to "make Republicanism the in-thing" in the Democratic stronghold of Louisville.
"That's what we're going to do on May 20, is we're going to bring this Republican Party together, and we're going to beat Jack Conway," Comer said.
The commissioner, who has denied repeatedly the allegations made by his college girlfriend, restated his oft-heard remarks about the vote totals when he ran for commissioner in 2011 and picked up more votes than any Democrat, including Conway, who was running for attorney general.
After telling the crowd that the party "has to nominate the Republican that can win in November," Comer said that he and his running mate, state Sen. Chris McDaniel, "won't let you down."
"We'll work hard," Comer said. "We'll beat Jack Conway. We'll move Kentucky forward and we'll make Kentucky proud again."
Matt Bevin, who brought his family to the dinner, had quite a few enemies in the crowd from last year, when he unsuccessfully challenged U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the Republican primary and then refused to endorse McConnell in the general election.
Bevin offered "tough love," closing this campaign like he did the last one — by challenging Republicans to show up at the polls and decrying those who stay home on Election Day despite the sacrifices of veterans since the founding of the nation.
Bevin said he could bring "a better version of Kentucky than what we have today," but "the question I ask you tonight is, how badly do you want it?"
While Bevin said that "there is not one of us who is not imminently more qualified than Jack Conway, and please don't forget that," he argued that he is the only Republican candidate who can win in the fall.
"Only one of us can be entrusted to lead the charge on your behalf," Bevin said.
Even after the crowd had left, Bevin was seen shaking hands with the catering staff and asking for their votes.
Heiner, standing in front of a hometown crowd, recalled his time and accomplishments on the Louisville Metro Council, telling the crowd, "thank you for joining me in those fights."
Heiner said that "this is a great time to be a Republican in Kentucky," noting McConnell's leadership role in the U.S. Senate and junior U.S. Sen. Rand Paul's campaign for the presidency.
"On the state level, we have some unfinished business," Heiner said.
He argued that Gov. Steve Beshear has not done enough to improve the economy of Kentucky, and Heiner promoted his record in "job attraction" and his endorsement by Kentucky Right to Life.
"I'm here to tell you tonight, our governor may be satisfied, but I'm not," Hein er said.
Scott focused his remarks on Kentucky's veterans and his new argument that slot machines are already in Kentucky, even if the revenue from them is not.
"You think you haven't got gaming in Kentucky," Scott said, holding up pictures of the instant racing machines in Franklin. "Well, look out, you're going to have gaming all over Kentucky, and you're not going to get a dime of it if you're not careful."
Scott closed, as he often does, by professing his love for the party and the rest of the field, but he closed with a new message: "I can put this party back together."
The primary is Tuesday.