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Monday, September 08, 2014

2015 Kentucky Could Get Real Interesting If Alison Lundergan Grimes (And Matt Bevin) Get In!

2015 governor's race gets more interesting

One thing is certain about the race for Kentucky governor next year. It is wide open.
Former Louisville metro councilman and mayoral candidate Hal Heiner had to be encouraged by two recent polls. One, issued by his campaign in late July, put him in a virtual tie with the other declared candidate, Agriculture Commissioner James Comer.

 Another, from early August by Public Policy Polling, had Heiner in front of Comer 28 percent to 22 percent in a head-to-head match-up. Half the respondents were undecided, however.

Perhaps that poll’s most surprising result was that over two-thirds of likely primary voters were “not sure” whether they had a favorable or unfavorable opinion of Comer (69 percent) and Heiner (67 percent).

This had to be a bit discouraging to Comer, who got over half million votes for his post in 2011 and has traveled the state often since then promoting the cause of Kentucky farmers and, indirectly, his gubernatorial candidacy.

Comer professes unconcern and says voters will have a more positive reaction when his name is connected to his office and an even more positive reaction when it is linked to his success in cleaning up the mess left by his now imprisoned predecessor, Richie Farmer. Still, Heiner, who has invested $4 million of his personal wealth into his campaign, appears better positioned than many expected at this point.

Despite these numbers, it is hard to imagine Comer is not the leader among local GOP activists and officials critical to a successful primary campaign. But Heiner is working extremely hard to make inroads among those influential members of the nominating electorate, and some doors are opening to him courtesy of powerful others Comer has crossed.

Matt Bevin is the wild card. The rich Louisvillian whom Mitch McConnell easily dispatched in this year’s Republican U.S. Senate campaign fared best of all in the Public Policy Polling results.
Bevin had the highest favorability rating among the GOP (31 percent) and was the leader with 25 percent in a four-way primary against Comer’s 20 percent, Heiner’s 18 percent, and yet another affluent resident of the state’s biggest city, former ambassador to Latvia and fundraiser extraordinaire Cathy Bailey, who clocked in with a surprisingly strong 11 percent, despite a favorability rating of only 5 percent.

In the indispensable insider newsletter Kentucky Roll Call, Lowell Reese, one of Kentucky’s canniest political observers, said Bevin told him that in the Senate bid “he received double the number of votes needed to win the ’15 GOP primary for governor.” Reese left their discussion with the impression that Bevin is “itching to run.”

McConnell made mincemeat out of Bevin by exposing his multiple embarrassing inconsistencies and misstatements, but Bevin also suffered from self-inflicted wounds like the infamous cock-fighting fiasco. He obviously harbors hard feelings, but if he hopes to become governor, he had better undergo a political transfusion to purge that bad blood and make peace with McConnell and the party establishment.

Comer has repeatedly said that the next governor would not be a millionaire from Louisville, which also includes the only declared Democratic candidate, Attorney General Jack Conway. But Comer could confront three of them in the primary, although a Bailey candidacy seems increasingly unlikely.
Supreme Court Justice Will T. Scott of Pikeville is also apparently considering the race. He would face formidable challenges in finding a credible running mate, raising enough money and transcending the image of a regional candidate, but cannot be completely discounted.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the aisle, it is hard to find a Democrat who is sincerely happy with the prospect of Conway as the party’s 2015 standard bearer, even though the PPP poll put him ahead of each Republican. With better candidates like former auditor Crit Luallen and current auditor Adam Edelen having bowed out, however, the pickings are slim.

The most likely alternative is current U.S. Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes. With multiple recent polls putting her 4 or more points behind McConnell and no prospect for reversal on the horizon, it increasingly appears that she could be available come November.

It would be grueling to transition immediately into another statewide campaign, but she would have an organization in place. Democrats also owe her some gratitude because she was the only one with the guts to sign up for the political suicide mission of taking on McConnell.

Grimes is still stiff but has gotten better on the stump. Conway is not exactly a natural on the campaign trail. Grimes would have the advantage against him of not being from Louisville, which has a lousy record when it comes to gubernatorial candidacies, and her having lost a Senate race would not be a liability against Conway since he also has, to Rand Paul by a big 12 percent.

So look for subtle signs of Grimes shifting her sights from her deteriorating Senate bid to a developing gubernatorial one. It would be the smartest tactical move she has made so far.

(The Public Policy Polling data and report are available at:

John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney and a political commentator for His email is Follow him on Twitter @jddyche.

Editor's comment: might Matt Bevin run again? Well, check this out here.

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