Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Jack Conway: Contender or pretender?

It seems odd that Kentuckians are talking more about an upcoming Republican gubernatorial primary than they are the Democrat primary, but that's been the case for the past several months as interest builds as to which candidates will vie for the nomination until 2015.

That is, until recently, when a profile of Attorney General Jack Conway indicated that he'll be announcing his candidacy within a few months.

Even though the national spotlight is on U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell's re-election bid, it's the governor's race that is the big prize in Kentucky politics. Back when Kentucky governors were not allowed to succeed themselves, speculation began about who'd be running in four years almost as soon as the new Democrat-in-charge was inaugurated in December.

While lots has been said and written about the potential Republican primary, the Democrat contest has been largely ignored.

The Conway profile piece, written by new Lexington Herald-Leader political reporter Sam Youngman, states that should he run, he'd be the front-runner based on name recognition from his failed campaign for U.S. senator against Rand Paul more than three years ago.

We're not sure that's the case.

So far, the most frequently mentioned potential Democrat candidate is Adam Edelen, elected state auditor in 2011 after serving in Gov. Steve Beshear's administration. Many well-connected political observers and liberal pundits consider Edelen to be the lead dog in the pack of mutts who'll likely be running for governor on the Democrat side. He's said to already have the support of many of the party's influential backers and rich donors. He'll probably have Beshear's backing, and as previously mentioned here, current Agriculture Commissioner and possible Republican gubernatorial nominee Jamie Comer hand-delivered him his biggest accomplishment as auditor.

Conway's in his second term as attorney general and has no noteworthy achievements on which to hang his hat. He ran a terrible campaign against Paul (remember the Aqua Buddha ad that backfired on him?) and he has some serious issues dogging him in his hometown of Louisville concerning his brother's involvement in a drug case. Look up "empty suit" in a dictionary of Kentucky politicians and if Conway's picture doesn't show up first, he'll be up front in the list of Democrats who define that term.

"Little Jackie Conway," as we like to call him for his lightweight political stature, is a protege of Crit Luallen, longtime Democrat operative and former state auditor who is also said to be considering a run for governor. Both Conway and Luallen say they'll make their decisions on running independently of one another, so it will be interesting what one of them does if the other comes out first.

Another oft-mentioned potential candidate is former Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo, who's had some of the worst luck of any Kentucky Democrat we can think of in recent years. Mongiardo, a former state senator from Hazard, was picked as Beshear's running mate to provide some eastern Kentucky balance to the western Kentucky native/Bluegrass area resident. As soon as they were inaugurated, Mongiardo became the forgotten man in Beshear's administration. When Mongiardo decided to run for the U.S. Senate, Beshear didn't even save a place for him on his re-election ticket. Saying he needed to raise money for the 2011 campaign, Beshear replaced Mongiardo with Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson. (Interestingly enough, despite Abramson's declaration that he won't be running for governor or any other office, he's been infinitely more visible in Beshear's administration than Mongiardo was). And to add injury to insult, although Beshear said publicly that he supported Mongiardo over Conway, it's well-known that the governor worked behind the scenes to aid Conway's campaign over Mongiardo.

Conway might get a boost from the anti-Beshear forces who are still active within the state party. The political marriage between longtime enemies Beshear and Jerry Lundergan is very much one of convenience because Beshear hates Mitch McConnell and knows he has to partner with Lundergan to boost Alison Lundergan Grimes' campaign. Once this year's U.S. Senate race is over, Beshear and Lundergan are free to go their separate ways, and probably will. If Beshear backs Edelen, as is expected, will Lundergan go for Conway?

And what would the entry of Luallen, Mongiardo or possibly Greg Stumbo do to shake up the dynamics of the race?

At any rate, we're not sold on the idea of Conway becoming the instant front-runner if or when he decides to run. He does have more experience in statewide elective office than Edelen, but both he and Edelen were successful the last time they went before the Kentucky electorate.

It will be interesting to watch how Kentucky's Democrats tip-toe around Lundergan Grimes' candidacy as they pursue their own interests in the holy grail of political office in the state. We've said before that there's no office in the Bluegrass State that Democrats want to control more than that of governor, and they'll sacrifice a potential Senate victory to keep the Governor's Mansion under their control. But for now, we're not ready to concede the Democrat primary to the pretty boy sitting attorney general.


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