As Republican gubernatorial field grows to four, Democrat Jack Conway survives first real challenge to nomination

01/27/2015 08:32 PM

UPDATED FRANKFORT — Former tea party-backed U.S. Senate candidate Matt Bevin became the fourth and final Republican to enter this year’s gubernatorial primary Tuesday, filing for the office alongside the former chairwoman of the Bowling Green Southern Kentucky Tea Party.

Bevin hopes to come back from a crushing 24-point defeat to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell last May. The tea party-backed Louisville businessman had kept a relatively low profile since his loss but was often spotted at various GOP events throughout the year.

But Bevin’s entering a crowded Republican field that’s already grown testy and hit the airwaves. State Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, Louisville real estate developer Hal Heiner and former Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Will T. Scott are also jockeying for the GOP nomination.

He declined to elaborate on his campaign platform, saying he would discuss that at his launch soon.

A number of people encouraged him to run for governor after his failed bid for U.S. Senate last year as he weighed his options, he said.

“The fact is there have been many people from the very beginning who have wanted to see this, have wanted to see a number of other things,” Bevin said. “The one that made the most sense after the consideration that we discussed was this ticket. This is the ticket that is our best foot forward, our best ability to represent what our thoughts are as to how we best can fight for the people of Kentucky.”

Bevin’s running mate, Jenean Hampton of Bowling Green, also fell short in a bid for office, unsuccessfully challenging House Speaker Pro Tem Jody Richards this fall. Bevin noted that Hampton introduced him when he announced his run for U.S. Senate in 2013.

Although the Republican candidates have traded barbs since well before his entry, Bevin said he hopes there won’t be a lot of “ideological differences” within the GOP field.

“We are running against the slate that the Democrats are going to put forward,” he said. “We have very strong differences of opinion with the individuals that we know currently to be in the race on the Democrat side, and we will be making those delineations clear between our platform and theirs in the days and weeks ahead.”

Easy path for nomination

Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway also had reason to celebrate Bevin’s entry as the Republican was the only gubernatorial candidate to visit the secretary of state’s office on the filing deadline.

Conway said in a statement that he and his running mate, House Majority Caucus Chairwoman Sannie Overly, “are humbled that the Democratic Party stands united behind us as we seek to lead Kentucky into the future.”

Geoff Young, a little-known Lexington Democrat who re-filed after his first choice for lieutenant governor left the ticket, might take offense to that as Conway’s primary opponent, but Conway avoided another major name entering the race, effectively sealing the nomination.

“As we unite the Democratic Party for our efforts this year, Sannie and I are so grateful for what many have already done — and what we know many are willing to do,” Conway said in a statement. “We are going to win in November because we have the best record of service and the best plan for the future, and I look forward to working with all in our party to advance what will be a strong Democratic ticket.”

House Speaker Greg Stumbo had previously expressed concerns of Conway’s ability to win the gubernatorial election, but he eased off those criticisms Monday.

“I think I share some concern with a lot people in our party about that,” Stumbo told reporters in Lexington. “But you know, if he’s the nominee, then our job’s going to be to get everybody to focus on the positives, and yeah, I believe that whoever the Democratic nominee is can win the governor’s office.”

Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said the lack of a May election will help the Democratic Party, which has held the governor’s office for all but two terms since 1947, more than a divisive primary battle.

Slow filing deadline

Bevin was one of only a few statewide candidates who filed at Tuesday’s deadline.

Two state treasurer candidates — Democrat Daniel Grossberg of Louisville and Republican Jon Larson of Lexington — filed their paperwork, joining six others in seeking the office.

Grossberg must overcome a field of four other Democrats — state Reps. Jim Glenn of Owensboro and Rick Nelson of Middlesboro, former state Rep. Richard Henderson of Mt. Sterling and Neville Blakemore of Louisville — for the party’s nomination. Larson is running against state Rep. Kenny Imes of Murray and Allison Ball of Prestonsburg in the Republican primary.

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Subscribe to email updates.

Subscribe and get the latest political intelligence delivered to your inbox.

TWEETS ABOUT KENTUCKY POLITICS