FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Democrat Rocky Adkins picks a guitar with fellow bluegrass musicians, relives his basketball-playing days and recounts his bout with cancer as the longtime state lawmaker introduces himself with his debut ad in his run for Kentucky governor.
The 30-second TV ad, which started airing Monday, offers a biographical sketch of the House Democratic leader, who has been a fixture for those who closely follow Kentucky politics but is perhaps less known to those who don't. Adkins is making his first run for statewide office.
Adkins, 59, recalls his days working on his family's tobacco and cattle farm and playing point guard at Morehead State University. He points out hardships in his life — fighting cancer and losing a job. He flashes a sense of humor and takes a shot at Kentucky's Republican governor.
"Do you know me? I play a little bluegrass," Adkins says at the outset of the ad, before he and some fellow musicians start playing a bluegrass song while seated on a porch. "I plowed the family farm using a team of mules. Earned a scholarship sharing the ball. Had a little more hair then. Survived chemo and cancer. Lost my health care when I was laid off. Then I started my own business."
At age 35, Adkins was diagnosed with a tumor in the small intestine. He underwent surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatment. Five years later, doctors told him he had beaten the disease. Adkins has said he has had no signs of any recurrence, and he has given emotional speeches in the House to talk about overcoming cancer. Adkins lost his job while battling cancer, but he was able to remain insured through a federal law allowing employees who lose their jobs to pay for the coverage they had.
During his playing days, Adkins was a captain of the Morehead State basketball team. When he was a senior, the Eagles won the Ohio Valley Conference title and earned an NCAA tournament berth, losing to Syracuse in the first round. After getting laid off, Adkins started a project development and consulting business focusing on energy and transportation issues.
With a little more than five weeks before the May 21 primary, Adkins becomes the third Democratic candidate for governor to reach out to TV viewers with ads. Attorney General Andy Beshear and former state Auditor Adam Edelen went on TV before him. Another Democrat running for governor is frequent candidate Geoff Young. On the Republican side, Gov. Matt Bevin faces challenges from state Rep. Robert Goforth, William Woods, and Ike Lawrence.
Kentucky is one of three states electing governors in 2019, along with Louisiana and Mississippi.
Adkins, who is from Elliott County, is pinning his hopes in part on a strong showing across Kentucky's broad swaths of rural areas. He has said he'd be the Democrat best able to win back voters who switched allegiance to Republicans as the GOP became the state's dominant political party.
Adkins' debut commercial will run in the Bowling Green, Louisville, Lexington, Paducah and Evansville, Indiana, markets, his campaign said.
In the ad, Adkins points to his status as the top Democrat in the Kentucky House, saying he used the post to resist Bevin's initiatives on health care and education. The commercial shows Adkins giving a thumbs-up to a crowd of teachers protesting at the Kentucky Capitol.
Adkins was the longtime House majority floor leader when Democrats ran the chamber.
In 2016, Republicans won a House majority for the first time in nearly 100 years, relegating Adkins to his current role as the chamber's minority floor leader. Since then, he has led Democratic resistance to a series of GOP initiatives in a legislature dominated by Republicans.
He has opposed Bevin's efforts to impose new rules for Kentucky's Medicaid program that would require "able bodied" adults to either get a job, go to school or volunteer to keep their health benefits. A federal judge's recent ruling blocking the rules is being appealed.
Adkins also opposed a GOP-backed plan last year to make changes to public pension plans, and he resisted Bevin's charter-schools efforts.
"Matt Bevin? Why he's not one of us," Adkins says, promising to "be a governor for the little guy" as the ad fades out with bluegrass music.