Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

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February 23, 2014

Comer positioning with gubernatorial politicking

CAVE CITY — The roughly 400 Republicans at Saturday night’s Barren County Lincoln Day Dinner here were primarily focused on the U.S. Senate race and Republican hopes to take over the state House of Representatives this fall.

But there was some early gubernatorial politicking as well.

Republican Agriculture Commissioner James Comer was warmly received and his speech reflected his themes of a “new kind of politics” he’s championed while positioning himself for a 2015 run for governor.

Comer hails from neighboring Monroe County and he’s well-known in Barren County, so well-known that some local Democrats quiet supported Republican Comer’s 2011 campaign. Benson Bell, brother of Glasgow Democratic state Rep. Johnny Bell works for Comer. Also on hand were several Metcalfe County Republicans Comer represented in the legislature.

Comer got more votes than any other statewide candidate in 2011 despite the poor performance of Republican gubernatorial candidate David Williams at the top of the ticket. That immediately made Comer the Republican front-runner for 2015 in many Republicans’ views.

But as Comer acknowledged in a brief interview Saturday night, sometimes plans go awry.

Former Louisville Metro Councilman Hal Heiner is an all-but-announced candidate for the Republican nomination. He’s wealthy enough to self-finance at least a portion of his campaign and he’s believed to enjoy support from some in the Republican network of Fifth District U.S. Congressman Harold Hal Rogers.

Comer champions the legalization of industrial hemp, something Rogers fears may undercut his fight against drug abuse. Comer went to Somerset last fall for a speech in which he said the days of Republican kingmakers choosing the party’s candidates in smoke-filled rooms are over.

It was seen as a direct jab at Rogers though Comer might have also been thinking of U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell’s history of inserting himself into Republican gubernatorial campaigns.

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