Former Louisville congresswoman backs Comer's gubernatorial ambitions

09/19/2014 11:41 AM

Former Republican U.S. Rep. Anne Northup said she rarely endorses candidates in primaries, but she announced her support of Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer’s gubernatorial bid Friday in Louisville.

The former Louisville congresswoman gives Comer a prominent GOP voice in the backyard of the only other Republican candidate in the 2015 race, Louisville real estate developer Hal Heiner. Northup recalled her support of Heiner’s 2010 run for Louisville mayor, but she called next year’s gubernatorial election “a pivotal race” for Kentucky.

“We so badly need strong leadership,” Northup said on the Big Four Bridge on Louisville’s waterfront. “We need somebody with a vision, somebody that can get elected, and somebody that can accomplish things once they are elected, and when Jamie told me he was thinking about running for governor, I told him that I would be all in and that I would be so enthusiastic about him being the governor because I knew what a difference he could make.”

Northup credited Comer’s push for industrial hemp as an example of his leadership, and she said the gubernatorial hopeful impressed her during his run for agriculture commissioner in 2011.

Comer said Northup’s backing would help his campaign appeal to female and young voters as well as solidify his credentials in Jefferson County. Standing at the bridges between Louisville and southern Indiana, Comer credited Northup’s leadership in securing funding for such infrastructure projects as well as Louisville’s Waterfront Park.

“If you look in Louisville at many of the females who are in office today, they started out working for Congresswoman Anne Northup, either on her staff or as volunteers in her campaign, and that’s what we need in the Republican Party. We have to be able to attract more young people and more women.

“… No one has done more to attract more people to the Republican Party in Louisville than Anne Northup, and no one has been a greater leader for Louisville than Congresswoman Anne Northup.”

Northup, who served in Congress for five terms and unsuccessfully ran in the 2007 GOP gubernatorial primary against then-Gov. Ernie Fletcher, is one of the first major GOP names to get involved in next year’s governor’s race, and she’s no stranger to Heiner. In Heiner’s unsuccessful bid for Louisville mayor in 2010, Northup said she encouraged him to seek the office and she and her husband, Woody, gave maximum contributions to his campaign. Kentucky campaign finance records show the couple gave $4,000 in all to Heiner in 2010, when he lost to Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer by fewer than 10,000 votes.

“I was disappointed that Hal did lose, and a very close race that was very disappointing and disheartening for many of us that felt like Jefferson County could have made a different choice,” she told reporters after the event.

Heiner’s campaign, in response to Northup’s announcement, said voters “are tired of hearing about the past.”

“This campaign is about the future,” Heiner campaign spokesman Joe Burgan said in a statement. “How we are going to bring more jobs to Kentucky to get our people working today and how we prepare our kids for the jobs of the future. It’s about Hal Heiner’s 25 years of experience solving real problems and creating real jobs.”

Northup, who is a Washington, D.C., lobbyist for the firm Bracewell & Giuliani, declined to say whether Heiner’s gubernatorial campaign reached out to her about a possible endorsement.

“I’m not going to discuss any other conversations I have — they’re private,” she said. “Like I said, I have nothing but good things to say about Hal Heiner, and I was heartbroken that he didn’t become our mayor and really took that hard.”

“… I consider it an honor any time somebody wants to call me and ask for my advice or help, but I would never repeat the conversations that I had.”

She also said support for her 2007 run for governor had nothing to do with her decision to endorse Comer Friday. Comer backed Northup’s primary challenge against Fletcher while Heiner supported Fletcher’s re-election bid.

“After running as many races every two years as I ran — and there were primaries sometimes, there were always general elections — there were people that went broke differently in every election,” Northup said. “I learned early to get up the day after Election Day and say that’s all water over the dam. It’s over.”

However, Rebecca Jackson, a former GOP judge-executive in Jefferson County who ran against Fletcher in the 2003 governor’s race, said the 2007 endorsements likely played a role in Friday’s announcement. Jackson supports Heiner in next year’s primary election.

“We all remember our friends, and there were alignments there that I’m quite sure are the same today,” she told Pure Politics in a phone interview. “It would obviously play into it because he aligned with her then, and so she is still aligned with him.”

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 kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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