Herald-Leader Political Writer
Spring remains elusive, but the 2015 race for governor has arrived early.
The battle officially kicks off Tuesday morning, when former Louisville Metro Councilman Hal Heiner announces his bid for the governor’s mansion in Lexington.
Former Lexington-Fayette Urban County Councilwoman KC Crosbie is widely expected to be Heiner’s choice as a running mate. Crosbie is one of Kentucky’s three members of the Republican National Committee (RNC) and serves as finance chairwoman for the Republican Party of Kentucky.
Allies of Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, who is considering a run for governor but repeated this week that he will not make an announcement until after this year’s elections, welcomed Crosbie to the race Monday by calling for her resignation from the RNC and state GOP finance committee. They also raised questions about her husband’s work lobbying on behalf of pro-gambling interests.
The tensions between Heiner and Comer have simmered behind the scenes for months as both have made their interest in the race known. With Heiner about to make things official, those tensions appear ready to boil over.
Comer told the Herald-Leader Monday that Heiner, who appears hopeful of selling himself as the social conservative in the race, would have to explain the “inconsistencies” of seeking support from anti-gambling groups while putting Crosbie on the ticket.
That criticism stems from Crosbie’s husband, Scott, a longtime Republican and former candidate for mayor of Lexington. He is now a lobbyist and co-founder of HCM Governmental Relations, which has represented pro-gambling interests such as Tropicana Casinos and Resorts and GTech Corporation, according to the firm’s website.
“I think there are a lot of inconsistencies on that ticket,” Comer said. “It’s important that you take your time and make the right decisions, especially with your running mate. If I choose to run, I’m going to take my time and choose the right candidate for lieutenant governor that’s consistent with my message.”
In 2012, Comer said he supported a constitutional amendment that would allow casino-style gambling at horse racetracks. “You have an opportunity to place the fate of Kentuckians in the hands of Kentuckians,” he told a Senate committee in Feb. 2012. “I urge you to save a valuable member of the agriculture community.”
Top Republicans aligned with Comer, including House Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover, also expressed concerns Monday about KC Crosbie’s official roles within the state and national GOP.
Hoover, who said he likes Crosbie personally, told the Herald-Leader he thinks she should resign from both positions if she is going to join Heiner on the ticket.
“One of the concerns that I frequently hear among Republicans is that the establishment in the party controls things, and we’ve got to move away from that as a party,” Hoover said.
State GOP chairman Steve Robertson said there is nothing in the RNC or state party bylaws that would prohibit Crosbie from running for office while holding her official roles.
Joe Burgan, a spokesman for Heiner’s Super PAC, One Direction Kentucky, declined to comment on Crosbie, noting that he could not discuss a candidate who has not announced her candidacy. Neither Heiner nor Crosbie were made available for interviews Monday.
Burgan did say that if Comer wants to be critical of Crosbie, then the commissioner should get in the race.
“We don’t understand why the commissioner of agriculture and his staff continue to launch nasty attacks against fellow Republicans,” Burgan said. “If the agriculture commissioner wants to run for governor, he should stand up and make his intentions clear. If not, he should return his focus to running the Agriculture Department, which is what he was elected to do.”
Comer said Monday that Heiner’s likely announcement “will not have one ounce of impact on my decision of when and where to announce.”
“I think I’m in a very strong position,” Comer said. “I said that I will do what I think is right when I think it’s right. This ticket does absolutely nothing to change that.”
Cathy Bailey, former U.S. ambassador to Latvia, is also considering a run, telling the Herald-Leader in a text Monday that “Kentucky is ready for a positive change, and I’m confident that a vision for a brighter future for our great state will eventually be offered.”
“I welcome anyone to be a productive part of that discussion,” Bailey said.
Other Republicans were not as welcoming.
Zeroing in on Crosbie, Comer allies such as state Rep. Steven Rudy, R-West Paducah, were calling for “full disclosure” of the Crosbies’ finances.
“It’s concerning to say the least,” Rudy said. “I hope we have full disclosure. It’s one thing to talk the talk. It’s another thing to walk the walk.”
Early jabs notwithstanding, Heiner and Crosbie appear to have an uphill battle to defeat Comer for the nomination.
A Republican polling memo obtained over the weekend by the Herald-Leader shows Comer leading Heiner 42 percent to 14 percent.
Comer’s discipline and his pledge not to get in the race until after the midterms will no doubt be tested if those numbers tighten as Heiner, a wealthy businessman, campaigns without an opponent for eight months.
“If they choose to go negative on a candidate who hasn’t even decided if he’s going to run or not, I think there will be plenty of people in prominent positions across the state and coming out of the weeds to have my back,” Comer said. “Hopefully they won’t do that.”
Condoleezza Rice in Lexington for McConnell
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will appear at a fundraising luncheon for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in Lexington Thursday as a guest of GOP fundraiser Kelly Knight and coal magnate Joe Craft.
Knight and Craft were among 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s top fundraisers, and Knight serves as chairwoman of the Leader’s Circle, a women’s fundraising group for McConnell. She was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2007 to be a member of the U.S. delegation to the United Nations General Assembly.
Bill Clinton and Jerry Lundergan
Former President Bill Clinton did not appear to sign off on Jerry Lundergan’s boast that Clinton will return to Kentucky to campaign for Lundergan’s daughter, Alison Lundergan Grimes, whenever Lundergan picks up the phone.
After the president headlined a high-dollar fundraiser for Grimes in Louisville on Feb. 25, Lundergan told The Washington Post that Clinton would campaign for his daughter, the likely Democratic Senate nominee, “whenever I call.”
Matt McKenna, Clinton’s spokesman, appeared to dispute Lundergan’s assertion, which the Post reported that Lundergan said “with a wink.”
“President Clinton will have a very busy schedule this cycle,” McKenna said in an email. “He was grateful for the reception he received in Louisville yesterday and looks forward to campaigning for Democrats around the country throughout 2014.”