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Monday, November 11, 2013

Hal Heiner Looks To Be Republican Gubernatorial Nominee, But Has To Fight James Comer First!

Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer sees Hal Heiner over his shoulder

It seems like it was only yesterday that U.S. Rep. Brett Guthrie announced he wouldn’t run for governor in 2015, seemingly leaving the GOP nomination for Agriculture Commissioner James Comer to claim.

But there’s a reason there are big payoffs for those who bet on the Kentucky Derby in October rather than on the day of the race. The further out you are, the more difficult it is to predict the outcome.

Though Comer is probably still the favorite, there are indicators that are now pointing at former Louisville Metro Council member Hal Heiner as the Republican to keep your eye on.

For months now, Comer has been traveling the state, getting to know new people and re-establishing relationships with people who helped him when he won his current office in 2011. Comer has been doing it in a fairly high-profile fashion as part of his official duties.

He’s not making the rounds as a gubernatorial candidate because he’s not running for governor — says he hasn’t decided yet — wink, wink.

Heiner, on the other hand, has been traveling the state as well. He’s still deciding, too.

But he’s talking with individuals as he edges toward a gubernatorial announcement that could come as soon as he finds a running mate — potentially early next year.

And that’s where Comer’s biggest problem lies. It’s unclear if he — or any candidate — can raise the money from contributors to fund what would essentially be a year-and-a-half primary election campaign.

Heiner, a wealthy Louisville real-estate developer, doesn’t have that problem.

He hasn’t said whether he will self-fund his campaign, but it’s assumed that he will to some significant degree. Heiner contributed more than $1.9 million to his failed Louisville mayoral campaign in 2010. In all, his campaign spent $2.8 million.

And supporters say Heiner is prepared to raise and spend $5 million in the GOP primary. That would be, by far, the most a Republican has ever raised in a Kentucky gubernatorial primary, outpacing Ernie Fletcher, who raised $3.5 million in the primary when he sought re-election in 2007.

When he ran for agriculture commissioner in 2011, Comer raised $695,796 from contributors and loaned his campaign $100,000.

With Kentucky’s campaign finance laws as they are, limiting individual contributors to $1,000 contributions in each of the primary and general elections, you can see how it would be difficult for Comer to catch up to Heiner if he wanted to throw in his own resources.

Meanwhile, Comer appears to be trying to pivot to become the “outsider” candidate if Heiner gets into the race.

Comer had appeared to be lining up as the establishment candidate, and there had been signs that he would have the support of U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell. But that’s not so clear now.

McConnell’s former state director, Larry Cox, had come out of retirement to go to work for Comer in his state office but left abruptly this summer.

And last week in Somerset, Comer appeared to poke McConnell in the eye.

The Lexington Herald-Leader reported Wednesday that at an event in Pulaski County, Comer proclaimed his independence from McConnell and from U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, who is revered in Somerset, the Pulaski County seat.

“I cannot be controlled,” he told the crowd.

“The days of party bosses hand-picking elected officials in smoke-filled rooms must end,” Comer was quoted as saying.

“No more scenarios where party bosses send some guy from, say, Louisville, who has never been to Somerset before and order you to support him because (they) can control him.”

That guy from “say, Louisville,” is Heiner.

Comer knows it and he knows Heiner is the Republican he needs to keep his eye on.

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