LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - James Comer told a room full of Kentucky Realtors on Tuesday that a recent poll showed him leading three other candidates for the Republican nomination for governor.
But that's only partly true. The real front-runner is "undecided."
A pair of recent public polls shows most likely Kentucky Republican voters have not decided who they will vote for in the May 19 primary, hinting at a wide open race with a little more than three months to go. With so little time left - and few if any disagreements on major policy issues - the four Republican candidates are selling their backgrounds and their personalities to voters who are still recovering from one of the most expensive and closely-watched U.S. Senate races in the country.
That's why Matt Bevin, known mostly for his unsuccessful primary challenge to Sen. Mitch McConnell last year, spent most of his time before the Kentucky Association of Realtors on Tuesday joking about life with his nine children. And it's why former Supreme Court Justice Will T. Scott dispensed with a microphone as he boldly roamed the space in front of the stage to talk about the 3,800-square-foot northern white cedar home he raised his family in.
"What I'm giving people is somebody who has a fuller life experience than most of those in the race," Bevin told reporters after his speech, highlighting his experience running several businesses and managing a large family.
Comer, the state Agriculture Commissioner, has the most governing experience in the race. He was a state legislator for 11 years before becoming the state's only Republican statewide officeholder in 2011 when he won the race for agriculture commissioner. He has raised more than $1 million, keeping pace with Attorney General Jack Conway, the presumptive nominee for governor. And he said his western Kentucky roots, where most voters are still registered Democrats, put him in a strong position to win a general election.
"We need to nominate a Republican that inspires younger voters, that appeals to like-minded Democrats," Comer said. "Because only 38 percent of this state is Republican and 62 percent of this state is not Republican."
Hal Heiner, a former Louisville metro councilman, paints himself as a "Frankfort outsider" who can come in and reform what he says is a corrupt state government. While he has not matched Comer's fundraising and his list of endorsements, he has given himself more than $4 million of his own money. He's been airing TV commercials since last spring, and has already aired two commercials this year. But he is careful not to portray himself as a wealthy businessman out of touch with the needs of a mostly poor state.
"You may know me as a builder of business parks," Heiner told the crowd on Tuesday. "But you may not know that as the oldest of six children, I had the privilege of helping pay for my education. In high school and college, I worked multiple jobs."
And Scott, from the coal fields of eastern Kentucky, has jumped out early on the policy debate. Tuesday, he released a 55-page platform detailing his ideas on tax reform, combating drug use and charter schools. He was the first candidate to announce he would dismantle the state's health insurance exchange that has been lauded by Democratic President Barack Obama, a position most other candidates have since said they support.
"This job is not another ladder for me," Scott told the crowd. "You need me at the top of this ladder."