Thursday, December 05, 2013

Jump-starting the 2015 governor's race a good idea for state's GOP

Much has been said and written about Agriculture Commissioner Jamie Comer's recent hissy fit thrown during a supposedly nonpartisan speech in Somerset.

You've probably heard or read about it by now if you follow Kentucky politics. Comer made some crazy statements about not being controlled by the party's bosses, State Rep. Chris Girdler sent out a column about Comer's comments to the state's newspapers, and Comer offered a nonresponsive response that was published in the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Analysis of Comer's statements can wait for another day. But for now, it's time to address the underlying issue behind his Pulaski County meltdown: That it would be beneficial for Kentucky Republicans to get an early start on the 2015 gubernatorial election because it would help decrease the chances of a Democrat winning next year's U.S. Senate race.

By virtue of him being the only Republican statewide officeholder, Comer is generally believed to be the frontrunner for the GOP gubernatorial nomination. A number of other Republicans are either said to be considering running, or are frequently mentioned as possible candidates. We have some reservations about most all of those who have been named as potential contenders. There's plenty of time to examine each candidate or possible candidate, but now is not that time.

However, we think getting the gubernatorial race started now is an excellent idea and is one that all Kentucky Republicans should embrace, even the recalcitrant Comer.

While it's true that Kentucky's federal delegation has a decidedly-GOP flavor, and the Bluegrass State is really a Redgrass State because we've voted for the Republican nominee in the last four presidential elections, the fact is that the Democrats still control this state. They have all the important statewide offices, and even when Ernie Fletcher was governor, the other state offices in the GOP column (secretary of state and ag commissioner) were minor. The Democrats had the offices of auditor, attorney general and treasurer, and they certainly used those offices to partisan advantage. They also control the state House of Representatives and most local governments across the state, save for the south-central counties in the Old Fifth District and some of the northern Ohio River counties. They also still command a 60-40 advantage in voter registration, although the Republicans have closed that gap in recent years.

If you asked Kentucky's Democrat power bosses which office they'd prefer to hold, governor or United States senator, they'd choose governor every time. After all, the governor's office is the platform from where they reward supporters with jobs and appointments, and contributors with state contracts. A Democrat governor in Frankfort wields more power than a Democrat senator as one of 100 in Washington, D.C.

In this specific Senate race, although Mitch McConnell is a prized scalp that the Party of the Ass would love to claim, defeating him might not be as big of a victory as the Dems might hope. It's very likely that blowback from Obamacare will result in the Republicans taking control of the Senate next year, even if McConnell loses his individual election. And the favored Democrat candidate, Alison Lundergan Grimes, has baggage. Her father, former state party chair and corrupt state legislator Jerry Lundergan, has enemies within the KDP (most notably Gov. Steve Beshear), and despite the expressed hatred for McConnell, her support within the party is more tepid than Democrats will admit.

So, having an announced Republican candidate for governor prior to next year's Senate election would be a win-win for the GOP.  While the national media will still continue to focus on McConnell's re-election bid, state media would start paying attention to the governor's race. Any GOP candidate could begin to campaign against the Democrat mismanagement that has hurt this state for decades, even with no candidate to run against. And since the Democrats covet the Governor's Mansion more than a Senate seat, their candidates would necessarily have to start coming forward lest a GOP candidate successfully define them at the beginning of the race. This would certainly dry up attention and money for Lundergan Grimes.

Surely, a Gov. Comer would prefer to deal with McConnell or Matt Bevin than a Sen. Lundergan Grimes. One would hope he'd realize the wisdom of diverting resources from her campaign. We certainly do.

It appears that at least one candidate will be announcing early next year that he's running for governor. Whether Comer thinks this forces his hand or not, and despite what he may be saying about other Kentucky Republicans, this is better for everybody in the long run, including Comer himself, whether he realizes it or not.

We think this is sound political strategy and we hope it comes to pass.