Conway rolls out gubernatorial campaign (again) after filing candidacy papers

01/12/2015 06:15 PM

FRANKFORT — Fourteen days stand between Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway and his de facto selection as the Democratic gubernatorial nominee.

Conway has been the lone big-name Democrat in the race since he formed a slate with House Majority Caucus Chairwoman Sannie Overly in May, and the pair officially filed their candidacy paperwork on Monday before again kickstarting their campaign in front of about 120 supporters at the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History.

“My fellow Kentuckians, I come before you today with a pledge and a plan,” Conway said at the beginning of a 20-minute speech, highlighting his support for education, workforce development, job attraction and investments in rural Kentucky.

“The pledge that Sannie and I make to you today is that we will always, always put the people of Kentucky first. In every decision that we make, it’s going to be people over politics. That’s what I’ve done in my seven years as attorney general, and Sannie and I have the leadership, the energy and the vision to move our commonwealth forward.”

After all, Conway said, Kentuckians want their governors more akin to county judge-executives than presidents:

But in order to realize that vision for Kentucky, Conway must win the May 19 Democratic primary.

His only opposition for the party nomination thus far comes from long-shot candidate Geoff Young of Lexington, so Jan. 27 seems a more important date for the attorney general’s campaign. That’s the last day candidates can file to run for constitutional office, so Conway will know then whether his strategy in locking up early Democratic support effectively kept others in the party at bay once 4 p.m. hits two weeks from now.

Since announcing his gubernatorial bid, Conway has rolled out endorsements from fellow Democrats like former U.S. Sen. Wendell Ford and Lt. Gov. Crit Luallen as well as labor groups, most recently Kentucky State Building and Construction Trades Council on Thursday; raised more than $1.3 million; and, in the past month, received support from the Democratic Governors Association.

Luther Deaton, president of Central Bank, is among the Democrats still eyeing the race, and the Lexington banker told Pure Politics that he’s chosen a running mate from western Kentucky and locked down a base of supporters, but he won’t announce a decision until closer to the filing deadline.

Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes also has not declared her 2015 intentions, but Conway reiterated that he would be “shocked” if she ran for governor.

Conway sounded nonplussed about potential primary contenders, but he said it would be wise for the Democratic Party to coalesce behind his campaign.

“I will say this, I think it would be a tremendous benefit if we could conserve resources and focus on a solid, Kentucky-first, Democratic message for the entire year,” the attorney general told reporters after the event. “If someone wants to get in, you know, I can’t stop it, but I’m not hearing anybody getting in. I’m hearing a lot of talk, but actions always speak louder than words.”

As other prominent Democrats uncharacteristically steer clear of the gubernatorial primary, Conway said he will continue taking his message to the state’s electorate.

He will leave Tuesday morning for a three-day “listening tour” through eastern Kentucky, sharing not only what he’s done for Appalachia as attorney general, but also what he plans to do for the impoverished area, he said.

Instead of keeping tabs on others who may enter the race or what pundits say about his prospects as a gubernatorial candidate, Conway said he will “keep staying positive.”

“Look, we’re two weeks before the filing deadline,” he said. “We’re approaching $2 million raised. We’ve got almost all of labor locked in, a lot of key endorsements.

“I mean, this is unprecedented. This is unprecedented, so rather than focus on what unattributed source won’t go on the record to write someone’s column about what I can or can’t do, I’m going to focus on the positive. I’m going to focus on all the people who’ve so kind to me and given me a lot of support as Sannie and I embark on this challenge.”

If he emerges from the Democratic primary unscathed, Conway will have to refocus his efforts on the Republican nominee. Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer and former Louisville Metro Council member Hal Heiner are the two declared candidates so far, and former Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Will T. Scott is prepared to announce his bid Tuesday in Louisville.

Despite the 15-point shellacking U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell gave Grimes in November and Kentucky’s conservative tilt, Conway remains optimistic the state will again elect a Democratic governor as it has through most of its recent history.

Kentucky is “a funny state,” Conway said. “Our registration is still about 1.7-to-1 Democrat to Republican.”

But while he’s appealing to Democrats, Conway is quick to list credentials that may endear him to conservatives, such his A-plus rating by the National Rifle Association and his decision to sue President Barack Obama’s administration over newly proposed standards on carbon-dioxide emissions.

“You can ask me if, you know, did you vote for Obama? The answer is yes, and then I sued him,” Conway told reporters. “I sued him over the coal regs that hurt Kentucky, so I think what I have is a record of yes, caring about people as a governor should, but also putting Kentucky first and making certain that the partisan nonsense up in Washington and all these partisan divisions don’t distract me from what Kentuckians want their elected officials to do.”

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.


Subscribe to email updates.

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