Before any announcements, 2015 GOP primary for governor sparking rivalry, PACs

02/24/2014 07:42 PM

Any Republican ticket for governor in 2015 is at least a week away from emerging. But the rivalry is heating up, including a money race via political action committees to help state Republican House candidates this year.

Three potential Republican gubernatorial candidates worked the crowd Friday night at the Jefferson County Republican Party’s event: James Comer, the state agriculture commissioner, Hal Heiner, the Louisville developer and 2010 mayoral candidate, and Cathy Bailey, the Louisville philanthropist and former U.S. ambassador to Latvia.

Heiner appears closest to making an announcement, telling Pure Politics and other reporters on Jan. 29 that he would announce his intent this spring. That was the day Heiner announced a new super PAC called New Direction Kentucky aimed at raising money to help Republicans take control of the House.

Not to be outdone, Comer appeared with Northern Kentucky Republican Richard Knock last week for Knock’s announcement of the restarting of another super PAC, AmeriGOP, for the same purpose, as the Lexington Herald-Leader’s Sam Youngman reported. Knock is rekindling it for a second time after using it in support of Republican Thomas Massie in the 2012 GOP 4th Congressional District primary.

Bailey, meanwhile, formed her own federal PAC, Kentucky Rise on Feb. 10, according to FEC filings. The PAC will support federal candidates but will focus on helping Kentucky state House candidates, Bailey said. Bailey also has held several fundraisers in recent years for House Republican candidates and has said publicly she wants to focus on helping GOP candidates in this year’s election.

So Heiner seems poised to snare the spotlight of a campaign launch first. He — or any candidate for governor — must form a slate to be able to raise and spend money while traveling the state to introduce himself to voters. Among those being mentioned as Heiner’s potential lieutenant governor candidate is former Lexington councilwoman and 2011 state treasurer candidate K.C. Crosbie, who is the Republican Party of Kentucky’s national committee woman. Neither Heiner’s camp nor Crosbie will comment on a potential slate.

Comer has less incentive to announce now. He already has a day job that allows him to travel the state and make policy speeches that can be planks in a 2015 gubernatorial platform, such as his announcement in Eastern Kentucky last week.

“What I’m trying to do during the day is try to achieve and do a good job at the Department of Agriculture and set the example of how a government agency should be run. And at night, we’re going to work to help Republican candidates and conservative candidates in 2014,” Comer told Pure Politics on Friday. “I don’t think we need to announce anything right now.”

But Comer told WBKO in Bowling Green in December that he would announce his decision this spring.

When asked about Heiner, Comer went back to what he first told Pure Politics two months ago : that someone who announces this early is “selfish” and took a jab at Heiner and Crosbie by saying that “the great thing about a democracy is that you can lose your last races like Hal Heiner and K.C. Crosbie and you can run for a higher office.”

In response, Joe Burgan, who has been working with Heiner on his charter schools effort and has served as spokesman for Heiner, brushed aside Comer’s comments.

“Frankly, Hal Heiner is uninterested in responding to juvenile remarks,” Burgan said. “If Hal chooses to run for governor, his focus will be on helping our state unlock its vast economic potential, so that all Kentuckians have easy access to good paying jobs.”

Some Republican lawmakers don’t see too much risk in Republicans jumping in next year’s race this early.

The one caveat, said Republican Sen. Joe Bowen of Owensboro, is if the primary starts to get too nasty and distracting.

Rep. Mike Harmon, a Danville Republican who ran as the lieutenant governor candidate with Phil Moffett in 2011, said it takes time and money to build enough name recognition across the state. So starting now makes sense, he said.

Harmon said he will likely stay neutral because he served in the state House with Comer and because a prominent banker in his area, Jess Correll, is supporting Heiner.

Here’s Harmon and Bowen addressing the issue:

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