- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 7, 2014

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Jack Conway has a message for anyone criticizing his decision to not defend Kentucky’s gay-marriage ban.

“They do so at their own peril,” he said.

The Democratic Attorney General - who announced his candidacy for governor on Tuesday - made national headlines in March when he called a tearful news conference to announce he would not appeal a judge’s ruling forcing Kentucky to recognize same-sex marriages from other states.

Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear hired private attorneys to appeal the decision anyway, leaving Conway in a precarious political position for someone with aspirations for the Governor’s Mansion.

But as public opinion continues to shift in favor of gay marriage, Kentucky voters will tire of rehashing his gay-marriage decision come November 2015, Conway said in an interview.

“I think in the fall of 2015 that will not be the big issue,” he said. “I think the voters will be more interested in building Kentucky’s future than in reliving all of that.”

Kentucky Republicans did not single out Conway’s gay-marriage decision on Tuesday, choosing instead to accuse Conway of adopting the policies and politics of Democratic President Barack Obama, who is widely unpopular in Kentucky.

“It should concern all Kentucky voters that a true liberal like Jack Conway, who has publicly embraced President Barack Obama and the views of his administration, wants to lead our Commonwealth,” Kentucky GOP chairman Steve Robertson said.

Conway has often walked the fine party line of Kentucky Democrats. He stood up to the Obama administration when he sued the Environmental Protection Agency to stop federal regulators from imposing cap-and-trade standards through regulation. But he declined to join other Southern states in challenging the federal Affordable Care Act.

While Republican candidates have come to define themselves by their opposition to the federal health care law, Conway said he would work to keep in place Kynect - Kentucky’s version of the Affordable Care Act that has seen more than 413,000 people sign up for health insurance either through Medicaid or subsidized private plans.

“I think Republicans have to answer why they want to advocate policies that take health care away from 415,000 people,” Conway said. “The people of Kentucky have distinguished between the inability of Washington to get it right and what Kentucky did.”

Conway and his running mate, state Rep. Sannie Overly, D-Paris, are the first Democrats to announce for the 2015 governor’s race. Republican Hal Heiner, a former Louisville councilman, announced his candidacy in March.

Conway has been elected twice as Kentucky’s chief law enforcement officer, defeating his Republican opponents by comfortable margins.

But he has lost campaigns for federal offices. In 2002, Conway nearly unseated Republican U.S. Rep. Anne Northup in a hard-fought congressional race in the Louisville-area 3rd District. In 2010, he lost a grueling campaign for the U.S. Senate to Republican Rand Paul.

Associated Press Writer Bruce Schreiner, in Louisville, Kentucky, contributed to this report.

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