RGA's re-emergence brings President Obama back into spotlight with Election Day nearing

10/20/2015 07:14 PM

The return of the Republican Governors Association to Kentucky television airwaves brings an unpopular national figure back to the state’s political consciousness: President Barack Obama.

The RGA and Republican Attorneys General Association have dumped millions in the state to link Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jack Conway and attorney general candidate Andy Beshear to the president, hoping Obama’s poor approval numbers in Kentucky rub off on his fellow Democrats in their respective campaigns for constitutional office.

Speaking to Pure Politics after addressing an animated crowd at the state AFL-CIO’s 31st biennial convention at Louisville’s Crowne Plaza Hotel on Tuesday, Conway dismissed the $1.6 million in attacks that will continue to be lobbed by the RGA until Election Day, first reported by The Lexington-Herald Leader on Monday.

“I’ve had people come in and try to distort my record in the past and that’s fine,” Conway said. “We’ll withstand it. The people of Kentucky can see through this.”

Conway contends that he has effectively shed attempts to connect him with Obama.

He reiterated that he has pushed back against the president’s environmental policies by suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a point he’s made repeatedly since entering the gubernatorial race in May 2014.

“I’ve been saying for a year and a half now that, look, I’m a Kentucky-first Democrat,” Conway said. “I put people over politics, and I think that label’s already been shed.”

Try as he might to keep the president at arm’s length, the RGA and Republican gubernatorial nominee Matt Bevin will continue to press the connection.

Bevin’s campaign, in reaction to an announcement Tuesday by CSX that its mechanical shops in Corbin that service locomotives and rail cars for coal trains will close, blamed Obama’s EPA initiatives for further eroding Kentucky’s coal industry, calling Conway “a rubber stamp for Obama’s job-killing policies.”

“The agenda of Jack Conway and Barack Obama are destroying our state,” Bevin campaign spokeswoman Jessica Ditto said in a statement. “It is time to stand up and fight for our jobs. We cannot afford another four years of Barack Obama’s devastating agenda on our state.”

Beshear, whose campaign unsuccessfully tried to pull a RAGA ad in July, said that group’s decision to go dark on Kentucky airwaves is “one of those things that’s beyond any candidate’s control.”

Federal Communications Commission filings show the group’s last ad aired on Monday, although RAGA’s flights in some markets ended sooner.

“What I know I can focus on is pushing out my message of why I want to do this job,” Beshear said after his remarks at the AFL-CIO convention, listing items such as child abuse, illicit drugs, scams targeting the elderly and resolving the backlog of untested rape kits detailed in a report by Auditor Adam Edelen.

Beshear, Conway and outside super PACs supporting them like Kentucky Family Values and the Bluegrass Alliance for Consumer Rights — funded by the Democratic Governors Association and the Democratic Attorneys General Association, respectively — have thrown their share of punches in ads, however.

“Sometimes when people are swinging at you, you’ve got to swing back,” Beshear said. “But at this point, I’m focused on the issues.”

Other down-ballot Democrats say they, too, will remain focused on their particulars as candidates and not running from the unpopular president on the campaign trail.

“My sense is people cast dispersions and throw names around because they don’t have anything to talk about, so the best way to battle that is to talk about things of substance, things that impact people in their homes,” Edelen said after he addressed the AFL-CIO audience.

Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes is no stranger to Obama-centric assaults on the airwaves after her 15-point defeat to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell last fall. She said she is “still standing” after McConnell and outside spenders dropped $100 million in attack ads last year

“It’s because of the record of success that we have established in the office of secretary of state,” she said after her remarks. “I’m really proud of that record, and over the course of the road to re-election, especially over these next 14 days, that’s what we’re speaking to Kentuckians about.”


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