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By Kevin Wheatley
The State Journal
While all eyes are on Kentucky’s contentious U.S. Senate race as Election Day nears, another battle between GOP hopefuls for governor is nearing a boil.
Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer announced his gubernatorial ambitions at this year’s Fancy Farm picnic, and he’s set to formally unveil his campaign and running mate Sept. 9 in his hometown of Tompkinsville. His entry in the race pits him against Louisville real estate developer Hal Heiner, the only other Republican on the 2015 gubernatorial ballot thus far.
Comer said Thursday before the Kentucky Farm Bureau’s annual ham breakfast that he expects wide support in his bid for the Governor’s Mansion, particularly in Heiner’s backyard of Jefferson County. Sen. Julie Denton, a Louisville Republican whose district includes Heiner’s home, has endorsed Comer’s campaign, he said.
“We have a lot of support in Louisville,” he said. “After Sept. 9, you’re going to see a steady stream of key endorsements from Republican leaders in Jefferson County. You know, a lot of people have just written about this race saying this is going to be rural versus urban.
“I’m very proud of the organization that we have in Jefferson County. I’m very proud of the organization we have in Fayette County, northern Kentucky, Owensboro. This is a very well-organized organization, and people are going to see that on Sept. 9.”
Heiner, however, doesn’t share Comer’s optimism.
His campaign noted Heiner’s 6 percent lead on the agriculture commissioner in a head-to-head contest in an Aug. 12 Public Policy Polling survey of 383 Republican primary voters, with half the respondents undecided. The Heiner campaign also mentioned internal polling shows Heiner with a 28-point advantage on Comer in the 17-county Louisville market and a 51-point lead in Jefferson County.
“We are not only extremely confident in Hal’s Louisville support, but also his appeal statewide,” Heiner campaign spokesman Joe Burgan said in a statement Friday. “There is no appetite among Kentucky voters for the status quo which is why Hal’s business background and real world job attraction experience perfectly position him to be Kentucky’s next governor.”
Heiner has positioned himself as a Frankfort outsider in the race, touting his business acumen as a chief advantage over Comer. But with nearly six terms as a state representative under his belt before his election as agriculture commissioner in 2011, Comer believes his work in the General Assembly will equal support from GOP lawmakers.
Several plan to attend Comer’s campaign launch in Tompkinsville, he said Thursday. “You’re going to see more elected officials in Tompkinsville on Sept. 9 for the beginning of an election, a primary election, than you’ve ever seen in Kentucky politics,” Comer said.
Aside from serving alongside him for 11 years, Comer said House Republicans applaud his decision to delay his entry in the gubernatorial race and not draw donors from their campaigns with the Nov. 4 elections approaching.
“They appreciate the fact that I’ve been raising money for House candidates, going to fundraisers for House candidates,” he said. “That’s why so many of the House Republicans said, ‘Jamie, we wish you would get in the race about 60 days earlier than you planned because we don’t want Jack Conway to get any huge stretch of time with running unopposed where he can rack up commitments and raise money.’”
Burgan dismissed Comer’s support from state lawmakers, saying the agriculture commissioner will be “well positioned if this election were decided by lobbyists and career politicians, but it will not be.”
“It will be decided by people who are fed up with lobbyists and career politicians, who are tired of the status quo — and that spells bad news for Jamie Comer,” Burgan said in a statement.
Editor’s note: Reprinted with permission through the Kentucky Press News Service.