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Possible governor candidates need to move fast

By Joseph Gerth The Courier-Journal

The early gubernatorial campaigns of Democrat Jack Conway and Republican Hal Heiner appear to be pushing at least one other candidate toward getting in.

Agriculture Commissioner James Comer said Thursday the campaigns, especially Conway's, probably mean that other candidates need to decide more quickly than he previously thought when he said he would probably announce his intentions after the November election.

"Anybody who wants to get in will probably have to move up their time table by a couple of months," Comer said. "I'm going to be making my decision very soon."

Comer said his biggest concern is that Conway is out raising money, but, more importantly is busy uniting the Democratic party, which he said would make it difficult on a Republican who waited too late to begin campaigning.

On Thursday, Conway announced that former Sen. Wendell Ford, U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth and former state Auditor Crit Luallen were endorsing him. That gives him a powerful trio of surrogates from Western Kentucky, Louisville and central Kentucky. "It appears the Democrats are rallying around Conway," said Comer.

Heiner is trying to do the same thing on the Republican side as Conway is on the Democratic side - traveling the state, raising money and lining up support while Comer is somewhat limited because he hasn't announced a running mate and therefore is prohibited by law from raising campaign money.

Both Heiner and Conway must report in July how much they have raised and contributed to their campaigns over the last three months.

If either of them announce staggering figures, it could serve to convince others not to run.

Already, some of the top Democrats have opted out.

Luallen, current Auditor Adam Edelen, and Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson have all said they wouldn't run. Gov. Steve Beshear is prohibited by term limits from running again.

Former Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo is leaning toward challenging Conway. House Speaker Greg Stumbo has not ruled out a run. On the Republican side, former U.S. Ambassador to Latvia Cathy Bailey of Louisville is weighing her options and state Supreme Court Justice Will T. Scott of Pikeville is mentioned as a possibility.

But before Comer gets in, he must find a running mate. He said he's talked with a number of possibilities, including Kelly Knight of Lexington, the girlfriend of billionaire coal executive Joe Craft and a political fundraising rival of Bailey.

"She is a very good friend of mine and she would make an excellent lieutenant governor," said Comer, who said his top priority in finding a running mate is choosing someone Kentuckians would vote for for governor.

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