So far 2015 Democratic primary for governor is unusually quiet for an open-seat race

08/04/2014 10:45 AM

MAYFIELD — While the 2015 governor’s race was a consistent subplots among Republicans attending the 2014 Fancy Farm festivities, most Democrats spent the weekend avoiding the subject or at least downplaying it.

Even Attorney General Jack Conway — the only Democratic candidate who has announced for next year’s race — seemed to consciously place his candidacy to the side. He didn’t mention his run for governor in his three-minute remarks to Democrats Friday night at the Marshall County Bean Supper, a warm-up for the Fancy Farm speaking event. And even at the St. Jerome Parish picnic the next day, he talked as much or more about the 2014 U.S. Senate race and Alison Lundergan Grimes as he did about his gubernatorial platform.

The refrain among Democrats was: It’s all about the fall race and helping Grimes.

The governor’s race, for once, seemed to be an afterthought.

“The race is pretty immature at this time based on the past,” said former Gov. Paul Patton, who won a packed Democratic primary in 1995 when the governor’s seat was open. “But this Senate race has gotten people distracted.”

Patton said he understands why Conway got in the governor’s race in May with a running mate, state House Democratic Caucus Chairman Sannie Overly.

“I’ve got no problem with that,” Patton said. “But I think there will be time after the November election for other people to get in the race if they want to. I don’t know who that will be. But I would think there would be other Democrats in the race, but I have no idea who that would be.”

The most frequently-mentioned name is that of former Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo, who lost to Conway in the 2010 U.S. Senate primary.

Mongiardo made the more than six-hour drive from Hazard to take his 88-year-old father to Fancy Farm for the first time. Mongiardo didn’t make it out in time for the Marshall County bean supper event Friday night, which is a prime chance for prospective candidates to schmooze with Democratic activists. And at Saturday’s picnic, Mongiardo insisted he’s focused on helping Grimes this fall.

But, he said, he’s still “considering” jumping in the race:

At Mongiardo’s side Saturday was Kim Geveden, who has served as Mongiardo’s campaign manager in his previous statewide runs for U.S. Senate in 2004 and 2010.

Gov. Steve Beshear said he wouldn’t dissuade Mongiardo or any other Democrat from joining the fray.

“I think anybody who has the desire ought to get in there … We’re always benefited by a primary, and if it’s crowded that’s fine. And if it’s not that’s fine,” Beshear said. “But we’ll be ready to go in November (2015) and elect a Democrat.”

Open seats for governor have typically brought out a crowd the summer before the race was to begin.

For instance, the last time a term-limited governor was about to leave office, four big-name Democrats had either announced their candidacies or created exploratory committees (which were later eliminated). Democrats Ben Chandler, who like Conway was the attorney general, and then-House Speaker Jody Richards both ended up running. Steve Henry, who was lieutenant governor at the time, and Charlie Owen, the cable company owner, also spoke at Fancy Farm. Henry later decided not to run and Owen became Chandler’s running mate.

Democrats are reluctant to speculate why it’s been different so far this time.

The Republicans certainly aren’t having a difficult time attracting interest in the 2015 race. Republican Agriculture Commissioner James Comer announced at Saturday’s picnic what most everyone in politics already knew: that he is indeed running for governor. He joins Louisville businessman Hal Heiner in the race. And two other Louisville Republicans, former U.S. Ambassador Cathy Bailey and 2014 U.S. Senate challenger Matt Bevin, are still in the conversation as well.

Conway’s massive fundraising can’t be discounted as a factor as to why there’s not a rush to join him in the race. He and Overly pulled in more than $700,000 in their first few weeks in the race with only two fundraising events.

But most of the Democrats interviewed by Pure Politics over the weekend stuck to the 2014 line.

“Those who may be holding back are giving deference to the U.S. Senate race,” said Rep. Brent Yonts, D-Greenville.

The one X-factor would be if Grimes were to lose the U.S. Senate race, she would likely have the name-recognition, fundraising mechanism and presumably the good-will among Democratic activists as long as she didn’t make a historic blunder. But no Democrats were willing to even speculate about that over the weekend.

Still, activists like Yonts struggled to name any potential Democrats — other than Grimes — who would have a shot to beat Conway if they waited until after the Nov. 4 election to get in, even big names like former Congressman Ben Chandler or Mongiardo.

“His chances are not at the best right now because he has not expressed that opinion publicly, so he would have a hard time right now,” Yonts said of Mongiardo.

And the longer a candidate waits, the more of a lead in fundraising, attention and endorsements Conway gets.

“That’s a tactical judgement people have to make,” Patton said. “But I would think people still could get in after the November race.”

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