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Democrats jockey for position, ready to heat up governor's race

By Joseph Gerth The Courier-Journal

FRANKFORT - With the Kentucky General Assembly back home and the Kentucky Derby just weeks away, it's time to focus on the real sport of kings in the Bluegrass - the governor's race.

It's the event that every four years, politicians get together and wager more on a political contest than you or I ever will on a horse race. They'll bet their lifetime of work, their hard won political capital and in some cases a large amount of their own money.

For what? The right to sit on the first floor of the Capitol and run the state with fewer and fewer resources every year, all the while refereeing the bickering that goes on between the House and Senate.

Unfortunately, this race will last for more than two minutes. We ought to hear something from the Democrats pretty soon.

Both Attorney General Jack Conway and Auditor Adam Edelen have said they are pointed to announce sometime this spring. Both clearly want to run and have been busy trying to line up support and running mates.

They're likely to both run, unless former Auditor Crit Luallen, who had been hoping to make a decision around the first of the year but is still mulling the governor's race almost four months into 2014, does. If she jumps in, it makes it much more difficult for the other two.

Conway says Luallen is like a big sister to him. She mentored him when they worked together in the administration of Gov. Paul Patton and is even godmother to one of his daughters.

They clearly don't want to run against one another, and both would undoubtedly jump at the chance to have the other as their lieutenant governor candidate.

Luallen has said at 61, she feels like she's too old to play second fiddle to anyone and doesn't want to wait around for another eight years to run for governor.

Conway, 44, probably sees some pressure to run for the top job now, too, as the state turns more and more Republican. It's uncertain what chance a Democrat will have in 2023, the next time the state's top job likely won't have an incumbent.

Edelen has to see potential problems with entering a field that has Luallen in it. He wants to run on his four years of using the auditor's office to stamp out bad government. Problem is that Luallen has eight years of doing just that and could steal his thunder.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo is always mentioned as a possible candidate - talk that he's not tried to stop.

The problem for Stumbo is the sexual harassment claims about former Rep. John Arnold and the slow response of House leadership to deal with it - and then Stumbo's appointment to the state Legislative Ethics Commission of Elmer George, who voted not to hold Arnold accountable - make it a tough race for him.

What he's got going for him though, is that he's a skilled, savvy politician with flair who can bridge the state's cultural divide with his Eastern Kentucky roots and longtime support of the coal industry and his strong backing of traditional Democratic ideas that could excite the Democratic base.

The advantage Conway has is his ability to raise money. He's proven that he can work the phone and bring in wheelbarrels full of cash. In 2010, he hauled in $6.1 million in his 2010 U.S. Senate race. If he can announce before Edelen is ready, he can build up a fundraising lead that would make it tough for the brash auditor to compete.

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