Politics

Former Louisville Congresswoman Anne Northup has endorsed Republican state Agriculture Commissioner James Comer in his bid for the governor’s mansion.

Northup joined Comer for a press conference atop Waterfront Park’s Big Four pedestrian bridge Friday morning, commending the 2015 gubernatorial hopeful on his success in helping legalize industrial hemp in the state. She urged Republican voters in Jefferson County and across the state to support his candidacy.

“When Jamie told me that he was thinking about running for governor, I told him that I would be all in,” Northup said. “And that I would be so enthusiastic about him being the governor because I knew what a difference he could make.”

Northup’s endorsement is the campaign’s highest profile since Comer officially launched his bid earlier this month alongside running mate Chris McDaniel, a conservative freshman Republican state senator from Taylor Mill who owns a concrete construction business.

Comer is running against former Louisville Metro Councilman Hal Heiner in the Republican gubernatorial primary slated for May, and Northup’s endorsement is designed to chip away at Heiner’s base of support in Jefferson County.

Comer acknowledged that support in Louisville will be “very important” as he carves a path to victory.

“Louisville is the economic engine for the state,” he said. “This is where all the action is. We’re going to have a great organization in Louisville. We already have a lot of support among the CEO set in Jefferson County. And that’s going to continue to grow.”

He also said he would “lean on” Northup for advice if elected, but she told reporters she would not serve in an official capacity in a hypothetical Comer administration.

Northup was first elected to Kentucky’s 3rd Congressional District in 1996, voting often with her party on Capitol Hill and worked to bring federal dollars to her district, most notably with her championing of the Ohio River Bridges Project. She was defeated in 2006 by former LEO Weekly publisher John Yarmuth. She also served in the state House of Representatives from 1987 to 1996.

She was appointed to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission in 2009, and has been working as a Washington, D.C., lobbyist for Bracewell & Giuliani, the law firm of former New York mayor and failed U.S. presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani.

Northup also made an unsuccessful bid for governor herself, losing in a Republican primary to eventual nominee and Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher in 2007. She denied that her endorsement of Comer is retribution against Heiner, who supported Fletcher in that race.

“I have nothing but good things to say about Hal Heiner,” Northup said, adding that she and her husband, Woody Northup, donated to Heiner’s failed 2010 bid for Louisville mayor. “This is not about being against somebody. This is about supporting someone that is uniquely talented, that has broad-based support that can win an election and can be an effective leader once he’s elected.”

Northup’s support is also seen as a means to close a perceived gap between Comer and Louisville, which has formed the nucleus of a familiar Kentucky political trope pitting urban candidates against rural constituents.

During Comer’s Fancy Farm speech this summer, he took jabs at both Heiner and Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway, who is running as a Democratic candidate for governor, when he declared that the next governor won’t be a “millionaire from Louisville.” Both Heiner and Conway live in Louisville.

“My hope is that [Republicans in Jefferson County] will rally behind Jamie Comer,” Northup said. “He is the leader that can bring our state together, bring our party together to start with, and bring our state together and make a difference.”

Joe Burgan, a spokesman for the Heiner campaign who used to work as Northup’s political and finance director during her 10-year congressional tenure, said Heiner spoke with Northup before the gubernatorial campaign, but that the candidate did not ask for her endorsement.

In a statement released Friday, Burgan downplayed the endorsement, characterizing Northup as a relic from Kentucky’s political past.

“Kentuckians are tired of hearing about the past,” Burgan said. “This campaign is about the future. How we are going to bring more jobs to Kentucky to get our people working today and how we prepare our kids for the jobs of the future. It’s about Hal Heiner’s 25 years of experience solving real problems and creating real jobs.”