Running mate math spitting out different equations for 2015 Democratic governor hopefuls

11/24/2013 05:47 PM

If breaking up is hard to do, as the song goes, pairing up might be even tougher sometimes — especially in Kentucky politics.

Because a candidate for governor must name a lieutenant governor candidate before raising or spending any money in the race, announcing one’s intent to run for the highest office of the governor isn’t as simple as just deciding whether to run and what it would take to win.

That’s one of the factors that seems to be pushing back timelines of Democratic candidates, such as Attorney General Jack Conway, state Auditor Adam Edelen and former state Auditor Crit Luallen, who have talked about being open to running for governor for months but have yet to make any public confirmation.

In the last week, both Conway and state Edelen have pegged “early next year” as their tentative timeline for announcing whether they’ll run for governor.

Conway told that to WKYT’s Bill Bryant in this weekend’s edition of “Newsmakers.” And Edelen told Pure Politics political reporter Nick Storm and WHAS-11’s Joe Arnold after speaking Thursday at the Kentucky Association of Counties conference.

“What I’d like to do is be able to make a judgment about whether I’m going to do this or not shortly after the first of the year,” Edelen said, adding that he has major considerations to take into account, such as his current audits of the Jefferson County School Board and Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky Airport board.

But there’s another big political consideration: the candidate filing deadline.

Some of the prime potential running mates being mentioned to team up with Conway, Edelen or Luallen are lawmakers who would theoretically have to get through the 2014 elections first. And the filing deadline for the 2014 elections is Tuesday, Jan. 28 at 4 p.m.

Among those lawmakers whom many Democrats cite as potential matches for a Conway, Edelen or Luallen ticket include state Sen. R.J. Palmer of Winchester, Rep. John Tilley of Hopkinsville, Rep. Sannie Overly of Paris and Rep. Leslie Combs of Pikeville, to name a few. All are up for re-election next year.

Combs, who says she will file for a fifth term in the House, said she hasn’t had any discussions with gubernatorial candidates but is increasingly being mentioned among Democrats as a potential lieutenant governor candidate with Conway.

“I can tell you point blank – I have no gubernatorial candidate approach me and talk to me about this,” Combs said by phone from Washington on Friday where she was attending a National Foundation for Women Legislators meeting.

She acknowledged, though, that other intermediaries have tested her interest.

“People have asked me, ‘Would you be interested? What do you think?’ And I have told them I would be honored to be considered … I’m all ears. But I’m not out there shopping around for it,” she said.

As for Conway, Combs said she has only gotten to know her since she was elected to the state legisature in November 2006.

“I find him easy to talk to on issues. I find him to be reasonable. And I think he takes a lot of undo criticism” because she said she believes people misinterpret his personality, she said. “He’s kind of a quiet, reserved individual. I’ve told him before, ‘You might be thinking it, but you need to say it.”

Conway’s spokeswoman, Allison Gardner Martin, declined to comment on the rumblings about Conway and Combs potentially teaming up.

“Obviously, General Conway has a high respect for Rep. Combs and the work she’s done in Eastern Kentucky,” Martin said.

Tilley, meanwhile, confirmed to Pure Politics in August that he had been approached by a gubernatorial candidate but has declined to say by whom.

Luallen, though, might be the exception to the early 2014 timeline.

Earlier this month, she told Pure Politics in a phone interview that she is likely to let Kentuckians know about her plans before the end of the year. But that doesn’t mean if she decides to run she’ll name her ticket mate then.

“I don’t think you have to name a running mate to announce a campaign,” Luallen said. “I plan to announce whether I’ll run for governor by the end of the calendar year.”

In effect, Luallen plans to signal whether she’s in first — which may or may not have an effect on her potential rivals’ decisions to run or not – then find a running mate later, at least after the 2014 candidate filing deadline or perhaps once the General Assembly session ends.

She said the vetting process would be thorough because she would want a true partner in governing – not just a convenient political match. And she alluded to the awkward, if sometimes contentious, past pairings of Gov. Paul Patton and Lt. Gov. Steve Henry (who failed to keep his own ambitions in check), Gov. Ernie Fletcher and Lt. Gov. Steve Pence (who got crossways over expanded gambling and Flecher’s pardons) and Gov. Steve Beshear and his first Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo (who never seemed pleased with the job and role Beshear gave him).

“This person needs to be someone who not only brings political strengths and fundraising ability to the ticket, but someone who can add to strengths in governing,” Luallen said.

Luallen, though, did not drop any hints about who that would be for her.

One more thing: The early 2014 timeline wouldn’t be unusual. The last time Kentucky had an open governor’s race without an incumbent was 2003. And it wasn’t until Feb. 26, 2002, when the first candidate, Republican Rebecca Jackson who was the Jefferson County judge-executive, formally announced an exploratory committee to test the waters. The General Assembly, led by a push from then-Senate President David Williams, later killed exploratory committees, which allowed a prospective candidate to raise up to $90,000 to test the waters before forming a slate and running for real.

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