When Hal Heiner ran for mayor in Louisville against Greg Fischer, the knock on the Republican was that he was too nice, refusing to go negative in the final days of a tight race against his Democratic opponent.
Heiner, now in the thick of a four-way battle for the GOP gubernatorial nomination, put that notion to rest Friday morning, introducing a television ad that attacks opponents James Comer and Matt Bevin for trying to politicize allegations of abuse leveled at Comer by his college girlfriend.
In the ad, which features news clippings about the allegations, Heiner talks directly to the camera and calls the back-and-forth among the campaigns "the kind of politics people hate."
"You've heard the abuse charges against Jamie Comer," Heiner says. "Now, Matt Bevin and Jamie are using these charges to score political points."
The ad comes just days before voters are set to go to the polls and just a few days after the latest Bluegrass Poll showed Heiner's support stagnating after he built a sizable lead earlier in the spring. Heiner, Comer and Bevin entered the final week of the campaign in a statistical tie, according to the poll, with Will T. Scott placing a distant fourth.
In a statement to the Herald-Leader, Comer said "the latest ad by Heiner is that of a desperate campaign."
"It's unfortunate Hal continues to run a gutter campaign," Comer said. "T.J. and I are working hard to get our vote out and be the Republican nominee and beat (Jack) Conway this fall."
The Heiner campaign characterized its latest ad as a response to one by a pro-Comer super PAC that started running this week. That ad accused Heiner of "gutter politics," noting that Heiner's running mate KC Crosbie, and her husband, Scott Crosbie, had communicated with Lexington blogger Michael Adams, who for months pushed the abuse allegations.
"There's a shadow over the race for governor, taking Kentucky politics to a new low," the super PAC ad says. "Hal Heiner's campaign allowed it, bringing gutter politics into the Republican primary."
Marilyn Thomas, a woman Comer dated in college, has claimed that Comer hit her, belittled her, made a threatening phone call to her mother and drove her to a Louisville abortion clinic in the early 1990s.
Two women who roomed with Thomas during college have told the media that they witnessed Comer being emotionally abusive toward Thomas, but neither of them witnessed any physical violence. One roommate, Wendy Curley, told The Courier-Journal that she saw suspicious bruises on Thomas and that she remembered Comer dropping Thomas off at their dorm after taking her to the abortion clinic. Thomas' 83-year-old mother told The Courier-Journal that Comer once called and made threats against her daughter.
Comer has denied the allegations.
Heiner's ad accuses Bevin and Comer of trying to exploit the allegations for political gain, noting that Comer has accused the Heiner campaign of paying people to make allegations against Comer, though Comer has offered no proof to support that claim.
"Both Jamie Comer and Matt Bevin have openly questioned the motives of the woman who made the allegations and three witnesses," Heiner spokesman Doug Alexander said in a statement Friday. "It's gutter politics, and it's time Comer and Bevin are called out for their actions."
Bevin has sought to capitalize on the mud-slinging between Comer and Heiner.
Last week, Bevin introduced an ad titled "Food fight," that featured actors playing Heiner and Comer, sitting at a children's table and throwing food at each other.
After the Herald-Leader revealed the links between the Crosbies and Adams, Bevin immediately said that Heiner had "disqualified" himself from being the Republican nominee. Bevin then accused Heiner, during a debate on Kentucky Sports Radio, of telling him about the abuse allegations "months and months ago."
"The reality is Hal Heiner is not who he pretends to be," Bevin said.
In his statement Friday, Alexander said that Bevin "wants nothing more than to attack and create disarray as long as it helps him politically."