- Associated Press - Friday, October 30, 2015

ELIZABETHTOWN, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky’s Republican nominee for governor met for the first time publicly with two of his rivals for the GOP nomination on Friday as he sought to rally his scattered conservative base following the closest statewide election in state history.

Former Louisville Metro Councilman Hal Heiner and former state Supreme Court Justice Will T. Scott urged Republicans across the state to unite behind Matt Bevin while speaking to a few dozen people at the Hardin County GOP headquarters on Friday. James Comer, who finished second to Bevin by just 83 votes in May’s Republican primary, did not attend because he was in Washington D.C. But he had a surrogate read a letter of support.

Just five months ago, in a debate broadcast live on Kentucky Sports Radio, Bevin said Heiner was “not who he pretends to be” and Heiner dismissed Bevin as someone who “will say anything to get elected.” The two men were speaking just days away from the Republican primary. But Friday, Heiner said he was “completely behind” Bevin for governor.

“He’s a business person, he’s an entrepreneur, he’s right on the policies, and you know the most important part: He has the personal strength to get the hard work done,” Heiner said.

Heiner had slightly more than 27 percent of the vote in the May primary, just shy of 58,000 votes. He has stayed out of the public light since his defeat, where he spent more than $4 million of his own money in his first attempt for statewide office. In an interview, Heiner said he has been working quietly behind the scenes urging his supporters to get behind Bevin’s campaign against Democratic nominee Jack Conway.

“Obviously the first couple of weeks, resurfacing is always kind of interesting after a campaign,” Heiner said, a nod to the personal nature of the primary’s negative campaigning because the candidates agreed on nearly all major policy issues. “Kentucky’s in a very dangerous spot right now. We’re at the bottom of the country from a financial credit rating standpoint, lots of difficulties and great potential. I believe there is no comparison between Matt and Jack on the future of Kentucky, so I’m working for him.”

While Comer did not attend Friday’s rally, he has already publicly endorsed Bevin’s campaign. At the Graves County Republican Breakfast in August, Comer presented Bevin with a personalized Cincinnati Reds jersey bearing the number 83, the number of votes separating Bevin and Comer in the May 19th primary.

“Unity matters,” Bevin told the crowd of a few dozen people at the Hardin County GOP Headquarters. “While this has been a race where many are sleepy and don’t seem to be paying a lot of attention, … all the momentum that exists is on our side of the equation.”

Conway disagrees. He spent Friday campaigning in central and eastern Kentucky, traditional Democratic powerhouses that just last year voted in overwhelming numbers for the first time for Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell.

“As we travel throughout the state, (running mate) Sannie Overly and I are overwhelmed by the tremendous support we’re receiving from both Democrats and Republicans who are excited about our campaign’s message,” Conway said in a news release.

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