FRANKFORT — There was a traffic jam Monday morning when Attorney General Jack Conway and his massive entourage arrived at Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes' office to file his paperwork to run for governor.
Lawrence County Attorney Michael Hogan, filing to run for attorney general as a Republican, was the first to arrive, so Conway and his crew waited in the crowded office as Hogan, after being told he needed two Republicans to sign his filing papers, turned to the crowd and asked if there were two Republicans in the room that might sign their names.
The good news for Conway is that there weren't any other Democratic candidates in line either, and judging by his tone, message and a handful of other tell-tale signs, that's the way he wants to keep it.
Nobody seems to know whether Grimes is really considering taking on Conway in the Democratic gubernatorial primary after her loss to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
She has had plenty of opportunities to rule it out, but she has so far refused. The same can be said of Lexington banker Luther Deaton, former Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo and a long list of other Democratic officials who have been mentioned as potential candidates, generally by those who don't think Conway can win in November.
Thus Conway's theatrics Monday were part campaign kick-off and part warning.
"People keep focusing on 'Oh, is someone going to get in, what about the people that are talking bad about you,'" Conway told reporters after a rally with about 100 supporters. "Look, we're two weeks before the filing deadline. We're approaching $2 million raised. We've got almost all of labor locked in. We've got a lot of key endorsements. I mean this is unprecedented."
And just in case the media missed it, Conway pointed out that U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth was in the audience. So was Bill Londrigan, head of the Kentucky AFL-CIO.
The attorney general ticked off his fundraising results and targets — $1.5 million raised so far, $2 million by the beginning of February and $3.5 million for the primary.
He ticked off the results of the races he has won — 61 percent in 2007 and 55 percent in 2011 — and he talked about the lessons he learned from his failed bid against U.S. Sen. Rand Paul in 2010, calling it an "impossible year for a Democrat in Kentucky."
And he unveiled part of his economic plan, a cabinet-level position aimed at helping small businesses cut through red tape that sounds sort of lot like the one-stop business portal website that Grimes created and boasted of during her campaign.
Asked how his plan differs from what Grimes has already done, Conway said the website doesn't go far enough.
"I think you need human resources," he said.
And then there was the answer Conway gave to a question that nobody asked.
After WHAS-TV's Joe Arnold asked Conway about how his role in combatting illegal drug use could help him show rural Kentuckians that he shares their values, Conway volunteered that he had voted for President Barack Obama. (Grimes famously refused to answer the question, getting her in hot water during her lackluster race against McConnell.)
"I'm the only Democrat that sued the EPA," Conway said. "You can ask me, did you vote for Obama? The answer is 'yes, and then I sued him.'"
Following on his promise to be a pro-coal Democrat — he said he's starting a three-day listening tour in Eastern Kentucky on Tuesday — Conway also mentioned his A-plus rating from the National Rifle Association.
Those stances reflect the growing concern among some Democrats that Kentucky is lurching toward Republican domination after McConnell beat Grimes by almost 16 points.
Conway also suggested that it is better for the Democratic Party to be unified as Republicans appear headed toward a contentious primary with an as-yet determined field.
"I think it would be a tremendous benefit if we could conserve resources and focus on a solid, Kentucky-first Democratic message for the entire year," he said. "If somebody wants to get in, you know, I can't stop them. But I'm not hearing anybody get in. I'm hearing a lot of talk, but actions always speak louder than words."
And Conway wasn't the only one sending messages Monday.
The Democratic Governors Association posted a picture of Conway's rally on Facebook, captioning it with "It's official!"
As for Grimes, Conway said he has spoken to her briefly since the November election.
"I'd be shocked if she runs," he said. "We talked some about it over the last year and a half, and I was as supportive as I could be of her. I want to be helpful to her as we move forward in whatever she does."
Still, Conway said, "You always plan for competition."
"I know I can only control that which is within my control," Conway said. "But we stand in a really strong position."
That was the plan all along. And that was the message Conway was sending Monday.