By Ronnie Ellis / CNHI News Service
Jack Conway is sending a message to anyone thinking of joining him in the 2015 Democratic primary for governor.
The second-term attorney general announced Tuesday it took him just two months to raise $751,329 for his gubernatorial campaign, laying a marker for those who may wish to challenge him. Conway and his running mate, House Democratic Caucus Chair Sannie Overly of Paris, are the only declared Democratic ticket in the race so far.
Conway irked some Democrats by announcing on May 6 that he’s running for governor and raising money. Several in his party have said Democrats should concentrate first on this year’s races for the U.S. Senate and retaining Democratic control of the House.
Among those critics are Democratic Speaker Greg Stumbo and former Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo, both of whom are said to be considering a run for governor in 2015. It didn’t take long for Stumbo to respond to Conway’s fundraising announcement.
“I have not ruled out running,” Stumbo said of the 2015 governor’s race, “but my priority is raising money for Democrats who are on the ballot this year, especially my House members and Alison Lundergan Grimes.” Grimes is challenging incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell.
His comments also might be interpreted as an indirect criticism of Overly, who as Caucus Chair is responsible for helping elect Democratic House candidates including helping them raise money. Overly said at the time she joined Conway’s ticket her first priority in 2014 will be those House races and said most House members reacted positively to the news she was joining Conway’s ticket.
In his announcement, Conway went out of his way to say he’d held only two fundraisers, perhaps anticipating criticism his own fundraising detracts from 2014 Democratic candidates’ efforts. He said by limiting his fundraising to two events he is “keeping the commitment to avoid fundraising conflicts with Alison Lundergan Grimes and the Kentucky House Democratic Caucus.”
Three-quarters of a million dollars in just two months is an impressive amount of money and may give potential Democratic challengers pause. One who was expected to run, Auditor Adam Edelen, has already announced he won’t run for governor next year and instead will seek re-election.
On top of the $751,000 Conway is wealthy enough to contribute significant amounts to his own campaign and he’s already secured endorsements from some key Democrats, including former Auditor Crit Luallen, U.S. Congressman John Yarmuth and former Governor and U.S. Sen. Wendell Ford.
“Sannie and I are honored by the bipartisan support we’ve received from friends across Kentucky,” Conway said. “We have a proven record of experience and following through on the commitments we’ve made to the people of this state. We are uniting Democrats and hard-working Kentuckians who believe that together we can build a better commonwealth to live, work and raise our families.”
There’s only one declared Republican candidate for governor so far: Louisville developer and former Metro Council member Hal Heiner. Heiner announced Monday he’s contributed $4 million to his campaign on top of $200,000 he’d earlier put in the campaign. To date, Heiner has $4.3 million, including his own contributions.
Republican Agriculture Commissioner James Comer is expected to join the race, perhaps as early as the annual Fancy Farm Picnic on Aug. 2 where he has said he will “announce my intentions.” Former U.S. Ambassador to Latvia, Cathy Bailey of Louisville, says she’s considering the race as well.
RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at email@example.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.