Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway became the first Democrat to enter the 2015 gubernatorial race Tuesday, saying he believes his second run for a higher-profile public office will end better than his first.
Conway touted his successes as the state’s top prosecutor and laid out a campaign platform emphasizing public education in an interview with The State Journal and Associated Press.
Running alongside the House of Representatives’ first female elected to leadership, House Majority Caucus Chairwoman Sannie Overly, will prove advantageous as the campaign begins what’s expected to be a competitive race for the Democratic nomination, he said.
Conway said he respects his possible opponents for the Democratic nod — such as Auditor Adam Edelen and House Speaker Greg Stumbo — but his work as attorney general puts the campaign in a strong position as it begins its push.
“The one silver lining to having $23 million spent against you in a U.S. Senate race is your name ID is high, and after we picked ourselves up after that and got back to our second term as attorney general, I think people have seen how hard I’ve been working, and the results are there,” Conway said.
“The results are there in 400,000 child-porn images taken off the Internet, a cybercrimes unit with a 100 percent conviction rate. I don’t think anyone can question how hard I’ve worked on the prescription drug issue and talking to kids about it. Civil collections (are) up 600 percent, taking on the for-profit colleges, shutting down one of the largest pyramid schemes in North America — we’ve been really active.”
Overly, D-Paris, adds to that résumé with her ascent to House leadership after five years as a state representative, he said.
“Having the first woman in the history of Kentucky elected to Democrat House leadership really brings a lot of strength to us,” Conway said. “She’s going to be very strong in the 6th Congressional District, so I think it’s a ticket that starts out from a position of strength.”
An area that could draw consternation from Democrats is Overly’s decision to run for lieutenant governor while heading the House Democratic Caucus Campaign Committee, especially as Republicans, for the first time in a century, vie for the chamber’s majority.
But she and Conway quieted those concerns before announcing their candidacy, saying Tuesday the House’s Democratic majority will be a top priority during this election cycle.
Stumbo, who has said he will announce his intent to run after securing his position as speaker next year, wished Democratic gubernatorial contenders well, but he reiterated his stance that the focal points should remain House Democrats and U.S. Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes’ race against Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.
“Though I stated publicly that I would have liked to see every Democrat wait until these goals have been met before jumping in the Governor’s race, I also understand everyone has to run their own race,” Stumbo said in a statement.
Conway downplayed the potential fundraising dissonance with his campaign and those of Grimes and House Democrats, who hold a 54-46 majority in the chamber. Rather, he suggested his ticket could be an asset for other Democratic candidates this year, saying he held a fundraiser for the House caucus last year and plans another this year.
“I have JACK PAC, which is a PAC that covers political expenses and donates to candidates,” Conway said. “We’ll be donating to House candidates this spring and this fall, and as we’ve called around to members of the House, we’ve heard them kind of relieved because it’s not the fact that we’re announcing or the timing, it’s how we’re doing it and what we’re saying.
“And we want people to know that we’re committed to the effort on behalf of the House Democrats this summer and fall.”
Conway also had a conversation with Grimes, saying he told the Democratic U.S. Senate candidate his campaign’s plans to begin organizing and fundraising “in a way that won’t step on her toes.”
Conway gained national attention in 2010, when he lost a bid for U.S. Senate against Republican upstart Rand Paul by 11 points.
But there are fundamental differences in running federal and state races, Conway said.
“Sometimes you have so many consultants around you and so many people doing things in your name that you get so busy giving speeches and raising money and traveling that you don’t keep your hands on enough of it and it can lose its authenticity,” he said. “And I will never let one of my races lose its authenticity again.”
The ill-fated “Aqua Buddha” ad questioning Paul’s faith proved a turning point in the election. Conway said he has since pledged to follow his gut in political decisions.
He’ll also avoid questions about issues du jour in Congress, such as whether he’d support Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s election to leadership, and instead focus on his vision for the commonwealth, he said.
“In the Senate race you’re so at the mercy of what they’re talking about in Washington that particular day and you’re so at the mercy of what these huge outside groups want to come in at the end and spend for you or against you, and a governor’s race is not like that,” Conway said.
“… I learned the difference between the two in a hard way, and I know that I will never, never let this campaign get to a point where there are people doing things in my name I’m not comfortable with.”