As potential 2015 opponents march forward, Comer faces timing and money crunches

07/03/2014 10:56 AM

Republican Agriculture Commissioner James Comer can’t escape the questions about running for governor — and not just about whether he will but when he’ll announce and how much of a head start he’s willing to give potential opponents.

Comer has flagged the end of the summer as his target for announcing whether he’ll run for governor, which he again told reporters Wednesday after an Agriculture Department event in Louisville.

He has been saying privately since the Kentucky Derby that if Attorney General Jack Conway got in the race this summer and began raising money, that would force him to make his decision earlier than late fall. Conway announced for the race the week after the Derby and has been raising money ever since.

Comer reiterated that to the Herald-Leader’s Sam Youngman that he was concerned about giving Conway too much of a head start.

But Comer previously said he would wait until after the fall elections when this year’s competitive U.S. Senate and state House races are over. In fact, he called the first Republican to get in the governor’s race — Louisville developer Hal Heiner — “selfish” for announcing before the 2014 races were over.

Heiner, since getting in the race in March, has been traveling frequently to the Republican-heavy counties in southern Kentucky — Comer’s backyard. Heiner’s campaign created an app to track Heiner in order to prove it.

And Heiner is about to show how much he’s raised and kicked in of his own money. That total amount that could reach $4 million in the quarterly report Heiner must file by Monday with the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance.

Money isn’t necessarily a predictor of success. The record for spending in a Republican primary for governor is held by Billy Harper, the Paducah businessman who spent $6.2 million of his own money in the 2007 GOP primary in which he finished third. But Heiner has been campaigning more consistently and strategically than Harper did.

Still, Comer told Pure Politics Wednesday that he isn’t worried about Heiner.

Comer denied, though, that he is counting on outside help next year from independent fundraising groups that he has been helping to raise money for candidates this year. He has agreed to help raise money for AmeriGOP, a super PAC founded by Richard Knock in Northern Kentucky. And Comer has agreed to help a 527 group called the Next Generation Leadership Fund Inc., as the Courier-Journal’s Joe Gerth reported last week.

The $100,000 donation from Churchill Downs to that group raised eyebrows, especially when Comer and Churchill didn’t deny that the group will be spending money on 2014 candidates, including those for the state House. As Gerth reported, that angered House Speaker Greg Stumbo, who had pledged to make one of Churchill’s priorities, allowing casino gambling, House Bill 1 in 2015 if Stumbo returned as speaker.

Comer, who supports putting the casino issue on the ballot for voters to ratify or turn down, again said he didn’t raise that money. But he said he didn’t think Churchill’s donation would tank casino efforts.

Comer said he didn’t know which 2014 candidates the group will support. He also said he didn’t know anything about a $3,000 expenditure the group made in February for video production — the week after Comer’s major announcement in Knott County about the Appalachian Proud program.


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