Calm night in Somerset follows rough-and-tumble week in GOP gubernatorial politics

05/10/2015 09:37 AM

SOMERSET — Saturday proved relatively quiet for statewide candidates at the Pulaski County Republican Party’s “meet the candidates” event.

After a whirlwind week in Kentucky’s soap-opera-style Republican gubernatorial primary, that was a reprieve from allegations of physical and mental abuse dating back more than two decades against Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, whose accuser was previously identified in a Tumblr page dedicated to anti-Comer material.

Comer has denied claims made by the woman, Marilyn Thomas, who also accused him of driving her to a Louisville abortion clinic in late 1991 in a four-page letter to The Courier-Journal on Monday.

More than 150 in GOP-rich Pulaski County dined on barbecue and burgoo at the Hal Rogers Regional Fire Training Center Saturday as two gubernatorial candidates — former Louisville Metro Councilman Hal Heiner and Louisville investment manager Matt Bevin — condensed their campaigns into four-minute speeches.

The only swipes came from Bevin, who alluded to “people in this race who feel they need to soil the bed of this process.”

For some who’ve followed this year’s race, that line was a mere jab. 

In the latest twist, a second roommate of Thomas’ issued a one-paragraph statement Friday through an attorney to The Courier-Journal and Jury Verdict Publications saying she witnessed “several” instances of mental and emotional abuse by Comer against Thomas in 1993, including one episode where the roommate threatened to call police to get Comer to leave during a heated argument.

Comer, who attended a barbecue festival in Owensboro on Saturday, reiterated in reports his denial of Thomas’ claims and said in The Lexington Herald-Leader Friday he is “completely focused on closing this election out talking about the issues.”

Of Comer’s nearly 20-minute press conference Tuesday in which he denied everything raised in Thomas’ letter and produced a book he said Thomas hand-delivered in New York City, which she later disputed, the roommate, Jennifer Osborne, said in The Courier-Journal, “He lied about everything.”

Osborne, reached by Pure Politics Friday, did not return a request for comment.

State Sen. Chris McDaniel, Comer’s running mate, says the accusations have not affected the ticket’s support on the campaign trail, calling the response “overwhelming.”

“The fact of the matter is people know Commissioner Comer, people know me and they realize the type of people that we are, and this is just the lowest form of political tricks and slander that you could ever come across,” McDaniel said.

“… We have had more phone calls. We’ve had more people knocking door-to-door than we have throughout the whole campaign.”

Undecided voters they’ve encountered also question the timing of the report, which came about two weeks before the primary, he said. In her letter, Thomas said she came forward after Comer denied the allegations and mischaracterized their relationship in an April 29 Lexington Herald-Leader report on communication between the Tumblr author, Michael Adams, and the husband of Heiner’s running mate, KC Crosbie.

“People don’t want to see politics as usual, and that’s why they’re coming around to us at this time,” McDaniel said.

Heiner called claims of political trickery and attempts to connect his campaign with Thomas’ allegations “hogwash.”

“Domestic abuse is a serious issue,” he said. “This is an issue between Jamie Comer and the young lady.”

State Rep. Tommy Turner, a Comer supporter, says he believes links exist among the Crosbies, Thomas and blogger Michael Adams.

“I mean, any sane person would know there’re links between them, and you know it’s very sickening to me,” he said, calling Adams’ alleged threats against McDaniel and his daughters “bottom-of-the-barrel politics.”

Turner, R-Somerset, also questioned The Courier-Journal’s decision to publish the report “without having any evidence to prove that it was true.” When asked by Pure Politics about statements provided by Thomas’ mother, an 83-year-old former Catholic nun, and others, Turner said his mother “would have said pretty much whatever I asked her to say for me.”

Thomas’ mother told The Courier-Journal that Comer called their home early one morning about 25 years ago and threatened her daughter.

Turner said he and Comer roomed together during some legislative sessions during Comer’s time as a state representative, “and I think I know the man.”

“I don’t believe it,” he said. “I truly do not believe it.”

Turner, like McDaniel, says the accusations and media coverage has solidified Comer’s support “because people don’t like just telling lie on people, slandering people.”

Cloyd Bumgardner, GOP chairman for Pulaski County, declined to discuss how the accusations have shaped the gubernatorial primary in his region.

Voters in the county typically begin seriously considering who to vote for in the gubernatorial primary about two to three weeks before the election, he said.

“I would not want to speculate on anybody’s decision-making other than the fact that they’re going to utilize their own thinking,” Bumgardner said. “So I really don’t have any comment about any of the things in the news cycle.”

With nine days left before the May 19 primary, Heiner and McDaniel sounded confident when asked if the race can refocus on issues.

“I’ve stayed focused on policy from day one,” Heiner said. “It’s my core conviction while I’m in this race. I believe Kentucky can be first in education, can be first in job attraction and economic growth.

“I’ve stayed with that message for this entire period. I’m not going to change in this last week and a half.”

Said McDaniel: “You’ll continue to hear us talk about the issues, and that’s what you heard me talk about in there tonight. We’ve stayed on issues and obviously there’s distractions, but we think the people need to hear about issues, want to hear about issues, and we’re going to keep doing that.”

Bevin left shortly after his remarks and was not available for an on-camera interview.


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