GOP's Comer is night's top vote getter in ag commish win, salvages election for Republicans

11/08/2011 11:42 PM

Republican James Comer not only kept the Democrats from a sweep of the statewide offices on Tuesday night but received the most votes of any candidate — including more than the Democratic ticket of Gov. Steve Beshear and Jerry Abramson.

Comer won the agriculture commissioner’s race with more than 63.8 percent of the vote compared to 36.2 percent for Democrat Bob Farmer.

His 27.6-point win coupled with the 20.3-point loss by Republican candidate for governor David Williams made for a swing of nearly 58 points. That’s by far the best performance by a down-ticket Republican candidate in Kentucky history.

Comer nearly doubled the votes Williams and his running mate Richie Farmer received.

“Along the way we met a lot of naysayers,” Comer said in his victory speech. “And they said you can’t win because you’re from a small county and can’t raise money. They said you can’t win because you don’t have any name id. And they said you can’t win because you’re a Republican and it’s a bad year to be a Republican. And they said you can’t win because your last name isn’t Farmer. My friends, they were wrong.”

Comer, a state representative from Tompkinsville since 2001, started an ad blitz two weeks before the election with positive bio ads introducing himself to voters and a critical ad against Farmer. That spot showed Farmer, a comedian, telling jokes about Kentuckians from a comedy routine 10 years ago.

During the final weeks, Comer also got a boost with endorsements from the Louisville Courier-Journal and strong support in the agriculture industry, including former Democratic Agriculture Commissioner Billy Ray Smith.

Comer also said he relied on strategic advice of U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican minority leader.

Early signals in the election cycle indicated that McConnell’s camp believed Todd P’Pool, the candidate for attorney general, was Republicans’ best hope. McConnell’s former state director, Larry Cox, quickly signed on as P’Pool’s campaign chairman.

But P’Pool diverted from the McConnell camp’s campaign script in August when he went up with ads without saving sufficient funds for a strong ad buy over the final week. Without a consistent presence on television to reach voters, Jack Conway was able to double-up on the airwaves on his way to a 10-point victory over P’Pool.

By September, many Republicans’ attention had shifted to Comer and the agriculture commissioner race. And Comer often consulted with McConnell’s current state director, Terry Carmack. (in the above photo, left, with Comer at the statewide Lincoln Day Dinner earlier this year)

In addition to the ad strategy and capitalizing on Farmer’s off-color jokes, Comer campaigned tirelessly across the state. And he distanced himself from Williams in not-so-subtle ways.

Comer joined up with P’Pool for a “Coal and Corn” bus tour in early October — without Williams. And Comer rarely appeared at Williams’ events, including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s appearance for Williams in September and Williams’ final statewide fly-around.

That was similar to McConnell’s approach in 1977 when he successfully ran for Jefferson County judge-executive. He was the only Republican on the county-wide slate to win, and McConnell did so by running at arms-length from the other GOP candidates.


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