Caught in the middle: Heiner fielding attacks from Bevin, Comer in GOP primary

04/23/2015 07:04 PM

From polls testing potential hits against him to a website titled “What’s Hal Hiding?” to persistent insinuations that he’s illegally coordinating with an outside spending group, Republican gubernatorial hopeful Hal Heiner finds himself squarely in Matt Bevin’s and James Comer’s crosshairs less than four weeks before GOP voters pick their nominee.

Heiner, who has led the four-way Republican primary in the most recent public polling, dismissed his opponents’, particularly Bevin’s, latest round of attacks as hypocritical given their insistence that he disavow attack ads aired by a 501(c )(4) backing his candidacy.

The former Louisville Metro Council member’s campaign accused Bevin of running a recent push poll, but Bevin’s campaign manager told Pure Politics Wednesday that the team is testing issues against Heiner.

“I feel like it’s the Matt Bevin we saw from a year ago,” Heiner told Pure Politics after a Rotary Club of Louisville candidate forum Thursday, referring to Bevin’s primary challenge against U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “He’s at one point decrying attacks and at the second time he’s actually out there in a full-fledged attack. It’s hypocritical; it’s absurd.”

Bevin, however, said he had no knowledge of the poll in question, “but if they are votes and he’s concerned about being held to account for his votes, that should concern people who are looking to elect him as governor.”

“If you can’t stand on what you’ve done in the past and yet you would expect to be taken seriously as a credible candidate going forward, that should concern the voters of Kentucky,” said Bevin, a Louisville investment manager.

Only one of the issues polled — re-enacting a ban on concealed-carry weapons in Louisville’s City Hall — involves a vote cast by Heiner on the Louisville Metro Council. His campaign has said the vote on the existing ordinance was unanimous, pointing to other Republicans who supported the measure.

The pollster, according to an audio recording released by the Heiner campaign, also said Heiner supported tolling roads for infrastructure projects and accepted farm subsidies before asking the respondent whether the information altered their electoral view of the candidate.

Heiner has previously said after his experience with the Ohio River Bridges Project, his view on tolls changed, according to a report by The Cincinnati Enquirer after Heiner entered the race in March 2014. He also noted in a recent gubernatorial debate on Pure Politics that as a councilman he led efforts to bar tolls on existing bridges to fund the project.

Still, Bevin said he’s not preparing to launch any negative ads against Heiner.

“No,” he said when asked if he planned an advertising attack against Heiner. “I have never, ever run a single negative ad. I think the soiling of the bed by Heiner and his associates is part of what’s wrong with the political process, quite literally.”

While others in the race attempt to link the pro-Heiner group Citizens for a Sound Government’s anti-Bevin and Comer ads with the candidate himself, Heiner again said his campaign has no control over CSG’s messaging and has remained focused on a positive, policy-based theme.

“As I’ve said before, those are not our ads,” Heiner said when asked to comment on the content of the spots, “and the reason I’m traveling six days a week, 13 to 18 hours a day meeting with Kentuckians is so that they can hear direct from me what’s possible in the future of Kentucky, and I want to be judged based on what I say and what comes from our campaign.”

Perhaps a more serious, and persistent, charge resurfaced from Comer, who pointed to former Heiner campaign manager Joe Burgan’s status as CSG’s spokesman as possible evidence of coordination between the entities. Campaigns are barred from coordinating political activities with such external groups.

Comer’s campaign recently unveiled a website titled “What’s Hal Hiding?” which delves into a number of potential assaults against Heiner. The website and its claims were first detailed — and dissected — by The Courier-Journal’s Joe Gerth on Wednesday.

Heiner “is the most hypocritical politician I’ve ever seen,” said Comer, Kentucky’s agriculture commissioner. While he promised to run a positive campaign, Comer also said he pledged to “defend myself,” adding if Heiner can refute anything on the website “then we’ll take it down.”

“He has hidden behind his own super PAC managed by his former campaign manager, who was his campaign manager not just in the (2010 Louisville) mayor’s race but through the first half of the governor’s race,” Comer said. “… This super PAC sent out three mail pieces so far. The last two said that I supported Obamacare, which is just a flat lie.”

When asked if he had any evidence of coordination between Heiner’s campaign and CSG, Comer called Burgan’s involvement with the group “odd.”

“I just wonder aloud,” he said.

Burgan, in a statement, said CSG “dutifully complies with all election laws, as do I.”

“People across the Commonwealth, including me, are working to elect Hal Heiner governor, but CSG and I are doing so independent of his campaign,” said Burgan, who resigned from the Heiner campaign in December.

Comer “has no evidence because there is no evidence because there is no connection,” Heiner campaign spokesman Doug Alexander told Pure Politics in a phone interview.

“Joe Burgan has not been involved with his (Heiner’s) campaign since last year,” he said.

Alexander also called the Comer campaign’s anti-Heiner website “silly.”

“It’s a desperate attempt to draw attention away from the criticism that has been directed at Commissioner Comer for his support over the legislative pension bill that he voted for,” Alexander said.

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 or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.


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