Republican James Comer files for governor, confident in chances for GOP nomination

01/22/2015 05:58 PM

FRANKFORT — No matter how many enter this year’s Republican gubernatorial primary, Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer said he’s confident he’ll capture at least half the GOP vote on May 19.

“The more the better,” he told reporters Thursday.

Comer, 42, tossed similar scraps of red meat to about 150 supporters at a Capitol rally before he and his running mate, state Sen. Chris McDaniel, officially filed their candidacy papers. Thursday marked the third time — first at Fancy Farm, then in his hometown of Tompkinsville — that Comer rolled out the broad points of his campaign platform for public consumption.

The first-term agriculture commissioner mentioned neither Hal Heiner, a former Louisville Metro Council member, nor Will T. Scott, a former Kentucky Supreme Court justice, in his speech or a press conference afterward. But a crowded gubernatorial primary field is relatively uncharted terrain for the state GOP, particularly as Attorney General Jack Conway continues his push to be the Democrats’ de facto nominee.

Comer ticked off a number of reasons why his campaign stands above those of Heiner, who jump started this year’s advertising cycle with a 30-second television spot released Tuesday, and Scott, who launched his campaign Jan. 13.

He highlighted the enthusiasm surrounding his bid, with donors from 116 counties pumping nearly $1.1 million into his campaign since Sept. 9, and he said attracting jobs to Kentucky, particularly eastern Kentucky, will be a top priority for his administration if elected.

In fact, Comer promised he and McDaniel, of Taylor Mill, would present a “bold” legislative agenda “that will change this state forever” during their first term in office.

“With your continued help, we will continue to run a positive campaign about ideas and achievement,” Comer said. “With your help, we will win this primary in May, then we will win that general election in November.”

As Comer discussed diversifying eastern Kentucky’s economy in response to President Barack Obama’s “war on coal,” he quickly noted that he and McDaniel are friends of the industry. He had previously shored up his pro-coal credentials by enlisting the help of Nick Carter, president of Natural Resource Partners, as his campaign chairman and Joe Craft, chief executive officer of Alliance Resource Partners, as an honorary co-chairman alongside Craft’s fiancée, Republican fundraiser Kelly Knight.

Comer said he and McDaniel would fight for the industry “because we know low utility rates bring business, and business brings jobs.”

Lifting eastern Kentuckians from poverty could also lower the number of Medicaid recipients in the state, Comer said.

“We now have 25 percent of Kentuckians enrolled in Medicaid,” Comer said, citing Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear’s and Conway’s support for the Affordable Care Act as the reason for that figure. “Now they will say that’s because we’re a poor state, and I agree with that and I’m sympathetic to that.

“But the problem with that is there’s no plan to take those people out of poverty. The best way to take people out of poverty in this state is to create an environment where those people living in poverty have access to a good-paying job.”

When asked about the Shaping Our Appalachian Region initiative backed by Beshear and U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Somerset, Comer said he supported and appreciated the effort but felt his administration would invoke change in the blighted region.

Comer, Heiner and Scott are scheduled to appear at a forum hosted by the Kentucky Press Association in Louisville Friday. Conway declined an invitation. Comer and Heiner have previously met head-to-head last year at similar events hosted by the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce in July and the Kentucky Hospital Association in November.

Comer also proposed Thursday that candidates for lieutenant governor and potential first ladies debate throughout the gubernatorial campaign.

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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