Bevin says he's being encouraged to run in 2015; What it could mean for the GOP gubernatorial field

08/03/2014 11:28 AM

Former U.S. Senate Republican primary challenger Matt Bevin has been quiet since the May election, but that could soon change as the 46-year old investor, who went toe-to-toe with the most powerful Republican in the country, starts courting supporters for a possible run for governor in 2015.

Bevin has been helping like-minded Republican House candidates raise campaign cash , and he has been meeting with prominent Republicans who have announced their campaigns for governor.

Bevin made several appearances over the Fancy Farm weekend including working the crowd at the Graves County Republican Breakfast.

After the breakfast Bevin spoke with Pure Politics and said he was being encouraged to run in the race governors race— and other races.

“There are many people who would like to see me jump into this race, that race or the other race and it’s both flattering and humbling that people have a thousand ideas of what they would like me to do with my life,” Bevin said.

“We’ll see. We’ll see where it goes,” he said. “In the mean time I’m just observing.”

Agriculture Commissioner James Comer who announced his run for governor in 2015 from the stage at the political picnic on Saturday said he’s spoken with Bevin but wouldn’t disclose what they talked about in the “private conversation.”

“I’ll say the same thing about Bevin running for governor that I said about him running for U.S. Senate. He has every right to run for whatever office he wants. Nobody is entitled to be governor. And my goal is that the governor’s race in 2015 is a clean, positive race about the issues and the future of Kentucky.”

“The first thing that pops into my mind is that you’ll have two guys from Louisville running. And if Cathy Bailey runs, that will be three people from Louisville running,” Comer said.

Bevin drew more than 125,000 votes against McConnell in the primary, but Comer said he wasn’t sure if that was a vote for Bevin or against McConnell.

“The 35 percent who voted for Bevin — was that a vote for Bevin or a vote against McConnell? I don’t know,” he said.

Comer also said he doesn’t know how the campaign calculus changes if Bevin enters the Republican gubernatorial primary.

“I’m not going to think about it unless he actually does it. If he does it, then we’ll go from there. But I’m pretty confident that the people who are encouraging me to run are pretty solid and they’re going to stick (with me) whether there’s two in the race or 22 in the race.”

However, Comer said he would further stick out from the field of candidates among two or three wealthy candidates who can fund their own campaign. Comer has been saying since Heiner got in the race that the governor’s position “cannot be bought” in Kentucky.

“I think if I choose to run for governor, that I can get over 50 percent of the votes in the Republican primary whether there are two, three or four people in the race,” he said before declaring his run on Saturday.

Republican Hal Heiner, who announced his candidacy for governor in May, said right now he hopes for a policy oriented debate in the Republican primary race, and that the race should be decided on experience.

“2015 is going to take care of itself. We’re going to have plenty of time to talk about about policy and background experiences…,” Heiner said when asked about Bevin.

Louisville-based Republican consultant Scott Jennings, who is unaffiliated with any gubernatorial campaigns, said he doesn’t think Bevin can count on the votes from the U.S. Senate primary making their way into a governors primary.

Jennings said there are “different issues, different dynamics, and certainly less money would be spent on his behalf.”

Plus, Bevin had a rough end to his Senate campaign.

“He sort of tripped across the finish line against McConnell and his opponents are certainly skillful enough to use the cockfighting fiasco against him,” Jennings said.

Jennings said the open seat for governor is bound to attract candidates, so “it wouldn’t be surprising to see him jump in.”

Bevin, and Louisville Republican and former former U.S. Ambassador to Latvia Cathy Bailey, made appearances at the Fancy Farm picnic and pre-picnic events this weekend.

However, Jennings, and other consultants Pure Politics spoke with said Bevin may have a problem with some Republicans.

“I think many republicans would like to see him be a team player this fall before they take a look at him for another race,” Jennings said.

That team player sentiment is something J. Todd Inman, an Owensboro insurance agent and strong Republican and McConnell backer told Pure Politics has caused some grief among the GOP in Kentucky.

“His silence hurt him with a lot of people,” Inman said, referring to Bevin’s lack of endorsement for McConnell after the primary election.

Bevin told Pure Politics on Saturday that nobody had asked for his endorsement, and if they had, Bevin’s not sure it would matter what he told his supporters.

“The reality is anybody who voted for me is not somebody that is going to be told what to do. These are independent, thoughtful, critical thinking folks who are going to vote for whom they want,” Bevin said. “

If Bevin does decide to run Inman said he thinks that would hurt Comer more than it would Heiner.

“If anything it creates a lot more grief than problems for Jamie Comer,” Inman said. “Now there are two different individuals who put $5 to $8 million into the race — when there should be 5 to 8 for the primary and the general election.”

Inman said that would make Comer re-think his gubernatorial strategy which has been a mix of dinners and speeches with small community events or Republican groups. In that scenario Comer would have to work the phones fundraising during the day attend dinners and campaign fundraisers at night.

What could help Bevin, Inman said is a crowded field, think Wallace Wilkinson for the Democrats in the 1987 Democratic primary — a crowded field with a lot of high profile names.

“If I were Bevin I would want 9 people in that race,” Inman said, but he can’t wait for others to jump he’s on the clock.

What’s left of Bevin’s U.S. Senate campaign apparatus is already starting to drift apart and work for other campaigns, and time is running out if he wants to capitalize on the filed organizations and staffers left behind after the 2014 U.S. Senate race.

Bevin said he realizes the crunch is on to make a decision.

“There is nothing shorter than the political half life of name recognition in the political world — believe me I know that,” Bevin said. “I think it’s well known I don’t take anything for granted, but again the idea is to make thoughtful informed decisions and to do them when the time is right.”

(Ryan Alessi contributed to this report)


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