It’s not déjà vu – it’s happening again.
It was late 2013, and Cathy Bailey, the wealthy former Ambassador to Latvia, was 95 percent sure she was going to run for governor. Behind the scenes, Scott Jennings was positioning Bailey to make her run.
Those speaking inside baseball were talking about U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, and how he was in a bind as Bailey and then Agriculture Commissioner James Comer were both signaling their intent to run. Both Bailey and Comer were big supporters of the junior Senator. It was Jennings involvement that also drew concerns for a party split – his ties to U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell was drawing the GOP leader into the fracas. Comer even went off at a party dinner in Somerset saying he, “could not be controlled.” His version of McConnell back-off.
In that brutal 2015 race, Bailey did not run. But Comer ran as did Louisville businessman Hal Heiner. They spent the year before the election softening each other. Matt Bevin entered the race on filing day, everyone counting him out after being whooped by McConnell in the 2014 U.S. Senate primary. Former state Supreme Court Justice Will T. Scott made an appearance and split some votes. The former justice jumped out of an airplane in that one, and Comer jumped his own scandal and had to explain why a former college girlfriend claimed he beat her. In the end it was Bevin by 83 votes in the primary.
Now, a former Ambassador is making the rounds and seems to be all in to run for governor. Meanwhile the former Agriculture Commissioner and the current Agriculture Commissioner are signaling their intentions for the race still two years away.
Here we are in early 2021, and I feel like I’m reliving the past. Jennings is reportedly working with Kelly Craft, the former ambassador to Canada and the United Nations. (I reached out to Jennings but he didn’t respond.) Craft has deep ties to McConnell and to Karl Rove, as her billionaire husband has been a major donor. People expect her to freeze the field, but, like Bailey in 2013 she hasn’t offered much. Craft’s shadow campaign essentially amounts to continued United Nations talking points. Comer, well his name continues to pop up. Bevin, some say, is interested in making a return to politics after being defeated at the end of his first term by Andy Beshear in 2019.
When Craft does speak it’s riddled with gaffes, in one of her first events after leaving the United Nations she spoke to the Owensboro Chamber of Commerce remotely, in what wasn’t a speech but a softball interview. In no time at all she’d made a tactical error, taking credit for “increasing Mexico’s wages.”
We get a front row seat to another Kentucky classic in the making. So, I say get your bourbon ready, and expect the unexpected.