High-profile Ky. Senate race could overshadow and foreshadow 2015 governor's race

07/10/2013 11:41 AM

The governor’s race in Kentucky is traditionally the marquee political event – especially a race for an open seat like the commonwealth will have in 2015.

But the brewing 2014 U.S. Senate race that is likely to be between the Senate’s top Republican, Mitch McConnell, and Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, could eclipse the gubernatorial free-for-all, at least through next November. And it won’t just affect voters’ attention span – but also could make a dent in donors’ wallets.

Danny Briscoe, a Louisville-based consultant who isn’t working with either campaign in the U.S. Senate race, said the national attention the Senate campaign receives will have “at least in the Democratic primary an enormous effect.”

“The Democratic candidate whoever they may be … they all have to raise money and they all have to raise a lot of money,” Briscoe said. “They can’t wait until the race for Senate ends. They’re going to have to start raising money fairly soon, and that’s going to irritate the Grimes people.”

And the emergence of Grimes as a U.S. Senate candidate also shakes up the 2015 political landscape.

In order for a Kentucky candidate for governor to start raising money, he or she would have to select a running mate. And prospective contenders were courting Grimes to be a lieutenant governor candidate, said Jim Cauley, a Pikeville native who ran Gov. Steve Beshear’s campaign in 2007 and who remains active as a Democratic political consultant.

“It’s like taking one of your players off the field,” Cauley said. “Nobody wants to be number two — everybody wants to be number one.”

Cauley said that debate over who would be number two on the Democratic ticket stalled the 2007 race. That contest didn’t get started until a year before the general election because “no one wanted to be the bottom of the ticket.”

Democrats leaving their options open for the 2015 Governor’s race include Attorney General Jack Conway, State Auditor Adam Edelen, former State Auditor Crit Luallen, Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson, and former Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo among others.

Conway has said there’s a “good chance” he’ll run for governor. And he said this week that the Democratic Party’s focus on Grimes shouldn’t affect the ability for other Democrats to raise funds for their races.

“I don’t think it will have much impact at all. You know, I think people can walk and chew gum at the same time,” Conway said. “I mean they can look at the Senate race and then have a governor’s race.”

The arms race of political fundraising also is an altogether different beast depending on which campaign rules the campaign falls under — state or federal.

Federal guidelines say individuals can donate up to $2,600 to each candidate or candidates committee for each election or $5,200 for the primary and general combined. And they can give $32,400 to national political party groups, which then can funnel money to help the candidates. The Federal Election Commission also allows for $10,000 combined limit to state, district and local party committees.

The Kentucky Registry of Election Finance, which would track gubernatorial spending, limits spending by individuals to $1,000 per election, $2,500 per PAC, an unlimited amount to political issues committees, and $2,500 per year to executive party committees and caucus campaign committees.

Former Kentucky campaign operative Mark Nickolas said the U.S. Senate race will “act as a vacuum cleaner as far as money goes.”

Nickolas in 2003 served as campaign manager for then-House Speaker Jody Richards’ primary campaign for governor and, later, Ben Chandler’s unsuccessful general election campaign for governor. He later helped Chandler win the 6th District congressional seat.

For competitors in the Democratic gubernatorial primary the funding challenges will spare no one, Nickolas said.

“No doubt it’s going to be a problem,” Nickolas told Pure Politics. “There is a finite amount of political money.”

But unpredictable trends could emerge from a major race like a McConnell-Grimes showdown, Nickolas added.

“Any time there is a major race before your own it tends to act as a catalyst,” Nickolas said. “That race itself will likely raise a whole new set of variables.”

But the start of a competitive, potentially nasty and hugely expensive U.S. Senate race might only be a precursor to one of the most interesting three-year stretches in the history of Kentucky elections.

“You’ve got 2016, and our Senator (Rand Paul) running for president,” said Bob Babbage, a Frankfort lobbyist and former Democratic gubernatorial candidate. “You’ve got 2015 and probably three or four popular Democrats running for governor by the end of this year – for 2015. A couple of popular Republicans running by the end of this year for 2015; and an epic Senate race – the choice between an iconic Senator (McConnell) and a rising star in the Democratic Party (Grimes).”

(Watch the interview with Babbage)


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