LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Facing a restless group of challengers in both parties, Kentucky's Republican governor sought to reassure nervous Republicans on Thursday that he would run for a second term in 2019 despite slow-walking a campaign for an election that is less than 11 months away.
Gov. Matt Bevin has already drawn three opponents for the May primary, including state Rep. Robert Goforth, who denounced the governor's leadership style as one of "arrogance, scorn and hateful ridicule." Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. James Comer — who lost to Bevin in the 2015 GOP primary by a scant 83 votes — signaled Thursday he was open to reconsidering his vow not to challenge Bevin, adding "he's in worse shape than I realized."
"I have been shocked at the number of people who have called begging me to run against him," Comer told The Associated Press in an interview. "I think that we need to have a discussion as a party (for) every available option that's out there."
Bevin announced in August he would run for re-election. But he has not filed for the office, and he has not filed paperwork that would allow him to begin raising money. Thursday, speaking to hundreds of business leaders at the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce's annual Chamber Day Dinner in Lexington, Bevin said: "I am running for governor again. I am."
"So all of the nonsense and all of the silliness, I hope you have figured out at this point that if I say I'm going to do something I will do it to the absolute best of my ability," Bevin said.
Thursday was Bevin's first appearance with Republican legislative leaders since he criticized them for not passing a pension bill during a special legislative session last month. In an op-ed published in newspapers across the state, Bevin said the session died "not due to a lack of planning, rather, but due to a lack of legislative will." Republican legislative leaders have pushed back, saying Bevin called the session despite them urging him not to. Republican House Speaker David Osborne appeared to send Bevin a message in his speech when he said: "For anyone that thinks that we will find a quick solution to this problem, please understand, I don't believe a quick solution will be found."
"Quite frankly, I think there is a possibility we will exit this session without a solution," Osborne said. "It's not my preference, it's not my plan, it's not my hope. But that is the truth."
Bevin's approval ratings have fallen since his failed attempt to make changes to the state's struggling public pension systems. His comments about teachers and other public workers who opposed his ideas prompted thousands to raucously protest at the state Capitol last year, closing schools in more than 30 districts across the state.
Bevin told reporters Thursday he is not worried about divisions within the GOP. In an early pitch to voters for a second term, Bevin appeared confident he would survive any challenge, whether it be from a Democrat or a Republican.
"It's all the same old names and failed candidates and ideas being recycled," Bevin said. "That is a choice you will have at many levels in many offices for 2019. I would encourage you, as you have been encouraged, be engaged. But don't look backwards."
Bevin even endorsed a popular bipartisan medical marijuana proposal that was introduced in the legislature this week, saying: "Depending on how that bill is written, I would be happy to sign it."
Bevin said he will officially file to run later this month. Asked if he has settled on a running mate, Bevin replied: "I am working on that." Bevin said he's pleased with the job performance of Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton, who is the state's first African-American elected to statewide office. Bevin says he has talked with Hampton at length about her political future.
"As to whether or not we will run again will be determined," he said.