- Associated Press - Monday, January 12, 2015

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Stuck on the sidelines of Alison Lundergan Grimes’ U.S. Senate campaign for most of last year, Democrat Jack Conway took center stage Monday as he officially launched his campaign for governor with a rally in Frankfort followed by a three-day tour of eastern Kentucky.

Conway officially filed his candidacy papers Monday morning in the cramped Secretary of State’s office, joking with running mate state Rep. Sannie Overly that this was her “last chance” as the pages were signed. But with nearly $1 million in the bank and no other obvious Democratic challenger on the horizon, Conway said he will run a campaign shaped by the lessons he has learned.

“You can ask me, ‘Did you vote for Obama?’ The answer is yes and then I sued him,” Conway said, a reference to his lawsuit challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s coal regulations and a subtle rebuke of Grimes’ famous refusal to say whether she voted for Obama during her failed Senate campaign last year.

This will be Conway’s fifth major election in Kentucky, a resume that includes two successful runs for Attorney General and failed bids for the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. His high-profile failures have some Democrats fretting about his ability to become governor, an office Democrats need to hold to or risk losing ground to the state’s rapidly growing Republican Party.

Conway seemed to answer those critics with his campaign rollout on Monday, featuring emotional testimony from a woman who lost her daughter to a prescription drug overdose and then joined Conway to travel the state for a program to educate students about the dangers of drugs.

“We have cried together in auditoriums all across this commonwealth,” Karen Shay told the crowd of about 100 people at the Kentucky History Center on a rainy Monday morning.

In a 20-minute speech, Conway said he pictured a governor as “a big judge executive,” a reference to the top elected official in each of the state’s 120 counties.

“(Kentuckians) want responses,” Conway said. “And when they feel forgotten in the corridors of Washington, they want the doorways to Frankfort to be open.”

Conway pledged to create a new cabinet official that would act as a liaison between small business owners and the state officials that regulate them. He promised to review the state’s business tax incentives to create opportunities for companies to operate in concert with the state’s public colleges and universities. And he said he would be dedicated to reforming Kentucky’s preschool and early childhood education, although he did not get into specifics.

Republicans will have at least a three-way primary, with Agriculture Commissioner Jamie Comer, former Louisville Metro Councilman Hal Heiner and former state Supreme Court Justice Will T. Scott all vying for the nomination. But Conway could be the only major Democrat in the May 19th primary.

Lt. Gov. Crit Luallen, Auditor Adam Edelen and Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo have all said they will not enter the race. Grimes has given no hints that she would run for governor, and House Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins is still considering a run.

Former congressional candidate Geoff Young of Lexington has also filed to run as a Democrat.

Conway said he would prefer to not have a serious primary challenge, but he is preparing for one. He briefly mentioned Comer during a news conference with reporters, criticizing him for saying the next governor of Kentucky would not come from Louisville.

“That’s no way to come out of the box. That’s no way to run for governor. The next governor ought to bring us all together,” Conway said.

Comer campaign manager Edwin King said Comer, who is from Tompkinsville, was simply saying he will defeat Heiner and Conway. King said Comer was meeting with business owners in Louisville on Monday and plans to win Jefferson County in the primary and the general election.

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