FRANKFORT — Be honest. When the Republican gubernatorial field solidified in late January, did you ever in your wildest dreams imagine the campaign could get this interesting? If you did, your political instincts blow mine away by light years.
I looked at the four guys in the race and thought, "Boring!" Most definitely with the capital "B" and the exclamation point.
You had a couple of business suits, Hal Heiner and Matt Bevin, whose most significant attribute was their ability to spend millions self-financing campaigns. But this attribute did not keep Heiner, a former Louisville Metro Council member, from losing a mayoral race to Greg Fischer. Nor did it keep Tea Party icon Bevin from getting trounced by U.S. Sen Mitch McConnell in the 2014 Senate primary.
You had a presumed front-runner, state Agriculture Commissioner Jamie Comer, who doesn't exactly peg the charisma needle and whose biggest claims to fame include his championing of hemp's return as a Kentucky farm crop (positive) and his assist in sending folk hero Richie Farmer to prison for crimes he committed during his own tenure as ag commissioner (positive for Democrats and neutral good government types/negative for many Republicans and University of Kentucky basketball fans). As an additional negative, Comer ticked off the state GOP's alpha dogs by telling them in a 2013 speech to keep their noses out of the governor's race.
And you had a former state Supreme Court justice, Will T. Scott, whose folksy wit promised to provide some entertainment value to the campaign but who showed no inclination to raise enough money to be a contender.
Putting this all together at the outset, I expected a yawn-fest primary. I was wrong.
Heiner built an early lead by spending enough on TV spots to feed a couple of Third World nations for at least a month or two. Comer came back by attacking Heiner. Bevin made it a three-man race by virtue of not being either Heiner or Comer, and by virtue of running by far the best ads.
When a former girlfriend accused Comer of physical and emotional abuse and (Horrors! Cover the eyes and ears of Republican children!) taking her to an abortion clinic back in his 1990s college days, Comer responded by saying Heiner's campaign was paying folks to tell lies about him. A pro-Comer super PAC aired a spot accusing Heiner of "gutter politics." Heiner fired back with an ad accusing Comer and Bevin of using the abuse allegations "to score political points."
Bevin's cute spot with actors depicting Comer and Heiner engaging in a food fight, already airing when things turned really ugly, thus proved to be a remarkably astute bit of fortunetelling.
Boring this campaign is not. The latest Bluegrass Poll has Bevin, the second longest shot in the field back in January, one point up on Comer, who is one point up on Heiner, the guy who has blown the most of his personal wealth in the race.
With no separation among those three, Scott, who has added entertainment value by delivering some of the campaign's best one-liners, must be wondering what might have been if he got in the race earlier and raised the kind of money he needed to be competitive.
Attorney General Jack Conway, the presumptive Democratic nominee, has a solid lead over all the Republican contenders, according to the latest Bluegrass Poll. But Conway has made the same mistake Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes made in her 2014 attempt to unseat McConnell. Instead of spending some of his sizeable campaign fund to define himself positively while Republicans were beating up on each other during the primary season, Conway hoarded his money, just as Grimes did last year. We all know what that strategy got her.
Come Wednesday, no matter who wins Tuesday's Republican primary, the GOP will turn its attention to defining Conway. And it certainly won't be in positive terms. That's my one bit of fortune telling for today.
Reach Larry Dale Keeling at firstname.lastname@example.org.