While Comer is not officially saying whether he'll run for governor, he's got a campaign theme

07/16/2013 05:05 PM

With Republican U.S. Rep. Brett Guthrie taking himself out of the governor’s race, Agriculture Commissioner James Comer becomes the clear early frontrunner for the GOP nomination in 2015.

Comer hasn’t said whether he’ll run in two years when Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear’s second and final term ends. But at the statewide GOP dinner last month, Comer told the crowd that big name Democrats who passed on running for U.S. Senate in order to run for governor will end up sorely disappointed.

After the speech, he told Pure Politics he still wasn’t ready to announce his intentions and has “several months” before having to officially decide.

But he went on to drop some hints about the type of Republican candidate could win, such as a “candidate that speaks a message of growth and opportunity.”

“One that’s not a partisan-type candidate, one that wants to work with Democrats on issues that they agree on — I think that kind of Republican candidate will have a lot easier time raising money than an average Democratic candidate,” he said.

Comer ran his 2011 campaign for agriculture commissioner as a candidate who could work across party lines and appeal to conservative Democrats. He simultaneously sought to establish roots with tea party groups. And that helped him become the highest vote-getter in the election as he ran against a weak Democratic candidate. Comer also was the only Republican to win any statewide office in that year’s election.

Since taking office in January 2012, Comer worked with Democratic State Auditor Adam Edelen — another potential gubernatorial contender — to open up the Department of Agriculture and clean out graft leftover from former Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer’s tenure.

He also spearheaded efforts during the 2013 legislative session to pass a bill that would allow Kentucky to lay the groundwork for an industrial hemp industry.

But Comer and his inner circle have clearly had an eye on the governor’s race. His chief of staff, Holly Harris, brought a “Comer 2015” sign to last year’s Fancy Farm picnic. Comer also made sure to travel to all 120 counties within his first year in office. And that sometimes meant rubbing elbows with key political figures and donors, such as Inez coal company owner, James Booth, as Nick Storm reported in December.

Comer also has had help in the last two years from some of U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell’s closest aides. Terry Carmack, now McConnell’s Kentucky director, advised Comer during the 2011 election, and McConnell’s former Kentucky office director, Larry Cox, served as deputy commissioner before abruptly resigning this spring.

Still, others who have been mentioned as possible GOP contenders for governor include Cathy Bailey, the former U.S. Ambassador to Latvia and GOP fundraiser, and Phil Moffett, who ran for governor with strong tea party support in 2011 before losing by 10 points in the primary to David Williams.


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