By Ronnie Ellis, CNHI News Service
Democratic Senate candidate Jack Conway said he never promised to help retire the campaign debt of his primary opponent, Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo, whom Conway narrowly defeated in a bitter contest. But he said someone on his campaign staff may have.
“I didn’t,” said Conway after he spoke to the Kentucky Judge/Executives Association Thursday at the Louisville Marriott Downtown.
“I know the staffs met the morning after (the election),” Conway said. “Whether it came up or not, I don’t know.”
Mongiardo says it did. He and Conway have never discussed Conway’s assistance in retiring the debt — Mongiardo said they’ve only spoken once “for all of 20 seconds” since the primary.
But he said his campaign manager Kim Geveden spoke the day after the primary election with Conway consultant Mark Riddle and Geveden said the two agreed Conway would help Mongiardo retire his debt. Mongiardo said his campaign hasn’t yet determined the final amount he may owe his campaign but it’s “around $80,000 or $90,000.”
Mongiardo lost to Conway by less than one percent and 3,000 votes, a margin he thought justified a re-canvass. But after Mongiardo’s campaign announced it would seek a re-canvass, Conway’s campaign and the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee asked him to withdraw that request because it might hinder donations to Conway’s campaign.
The Republican candidate Rand Paul, the libertarian leaning TEA Party favorite, is given to candid and sometimes controversial statements. He has gotten into hot water with comments about the 1964 Civil Rights Act, fair housing laws, and the Gulf Oil disaster — and that makes many Democrats see the race as winnable even in what others view as a likely Republican year in a Republican-leaning conservative state.
Mongiardo has so far declined to endorse Conway. But Mongiardo said he made the first move toward unifying Democrats by agreeing to withdraw his request for the re-canvass and he thinks Conway should deliver the fundraising help Mongiardo believes he was promised.
Most political observers say it will be difficult for Conway to defeat Paul without support in rural Kentucky, a place where Mongiardo ran strong while Conway rolled up winning margins in urban Jefferson and Fayette counties.
“I think he needs to get Mongiardo on his side just as fast as he can,” said Webster County Judge/Executive Jim Townsend, a Democrat.
Calloway County Judge/Executive Larry Elkins, also a Democrat, agreed Conway needs Mongiardo’s help in western Kentucky.
“Attorney General Conway basically ignored western Kentucky in the primary,” Elkins said, “and I think he’s going to pay a price in the general election.”
Mongiardo says he can help Conway in that part of the state — and he hopes the two sides can resolve their differences.
“I hope for the sake of the party to bring all sides together,” Mongiardo said.
Conway said he was scheduled to meet with Dick Prelopski, who worked on Mongiardo’s campaign and now works at party headquarters.
“I’m hopeful we can get (Mongiardo) on board, but I’m also talking to his constituencies,” Conway said.
RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.