As Edelen opts out, Conway fundraisers may gauge campaign strength



Posted on June 18, 2014 at 6:21 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jun 18 at 8:51 PM

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- The only Democrat thus far to enter the 2015 Kentucky governor's race, Attorney General Jack Conway, welcomed news of another potential opponent opting out the race on Wednesday, calling Auditor Adam Edelen "a long-time friend."

"He's a fine and dedicated public servant and has a very bright future," Conway said in a statement.

Edelen said he will be a candidate for re-election as State Auditor.
"We have broken new ground," Edelen said in his statement.  "From ferreting out waste and holding corrupt public officials accountable, to the work of making our schools run for the benefit of our children and taxpayers, to ensuring privacy protections in the digital age, I'm proud of what has been accomplished. I look forward to asking the people of Kentucky for a mandate to continue this important, bipartisan work."

Edelen hinted in a WHAS11 interview last week that the rigors of a gubernatorial campaign might be too much for his family to withstand.  He is married and has twin eight-year-old sons from a previous marriage.

"The reality is that campaign would require difficult sacrifices of my family and from my work as Auditor," Edelen said. "These are sacrifices I'm unwilling to make at this time."

In April, former auditor Crit Luallen also announced she would not run.

Both former Lt. Governor Daniel Mongiardo and House Speaker Greg Stumbo say they will wait until after this year's U.S. Senate election before they decide.

"I am not saying yes, but I'm not saying no," Stumbo repeated on Wednesday.

Democratic insiders suggest Edelen's exit may increase the possibility that former Congressman Ben Chandler of Woodford County could enter the race.

11 months from the primary, a surprise candidate still has plenty of time to jump in, perhaps from the private sector.

"We haven't factored in businessmen and other folks, businesswomen," said Democratic strategist Sherman Brown.

Lexington banker Luther Deaton is considered a potential candidate.

"Conway's name I.D. is the highest of all people you've mentioned because of the three statewide races," Brown said. "He's the front runner today because he's the only one in the race."

As a result, Conway is the only Democrat who can raise money for a gubernatorial campaign.  He has two major fundraisers planned next week.

The invitations for both $1000 per person Conway fundraisers include dozens of names of influential co-hosts. Supporters are invited to a June 24 event at the Louisville home of Matt and Fran Thornton, and at a June 25 "Fish Fry" at the Red Mile in Lexington.

And it's not just the names listed on the fundraisers which indicate the level of support for Conway, but other potential candidates will be watching how much cash Conway reports in July.

"If he reports $500,000, that is strong for six weeks," Brown said.  "Anything over $750,000 is probably a record for a first quarter in an open seat. People are still waiting to see what Speaker Stumbo, Chandler and Daniel Mongiardo are going to do. But Conway's name ID and $500,000 head start probably makes any potential candidate hesitate a little bit."

Hal Heiner is the only Republican to officially enter the race.  Agriculture Commissioner James Comer is expected to run, and former U-S Ambassador to Latvia Cathy Bailey has yet to announce her decision.

"We're so early in this governor's race that there will be people who will join this race later on," Heiner said, "and people that have been thinking about it that for one reason or another won't decide."