Louisville businessman Matt Bevin and Agriculture Commissioner James Comer tag-teamed attacks against former Louisville Metro Councilman Hal Heiner on Wednesday during a debate of Republican gubernatorial candidates.
The debate hosted, by the radio program Kentucky Sports Radio, came less than two weeks before the May 19 primary and days after The Courier-Journal published an accusation of domestic abuse against Comer.
The candidates accused Heiner of surrounding himself with operatives who levy attacks against his opponents while Heiner himself avoids personal responsibility.
“Hal Heiner has surrounded himself with the surliest and sorriest group of people who have smeared and assassinated other people in this race, and he can sit here and tell people that he has said nothing but positive things,” Bevin said during the debate.
The debate proved to be the most heated exchange between the candidates so far. This was in part because moderator Matt Jones—known best for his adamant support of Kentucky Wildcats athletics—pressed candidates on issues surrounding allegations that Comer abused his college girlfriend.
Comer flatly denies the accusations, which came to light this week after The Courier-Journal published excerpts from a four-page letter written by a woman Comer dated in college.
During the debate, Comer said he’s planning to sue the newspaper and believes that Heiner’s campaign pushed for the story to be published.
“That’s dirty politics at its worst,” Comer said.
Scott Crosbie, husband of Heiner’s running mate K.C. Crosbie, had been in contact with a blogger who has publicized Comer’s alleged abusive behavior, the Lexington Herald-Leader recently reported.
Heiner admitted that last fall he found out members of his campaign had been in contact with the blogger but added that he “made sure there wouldn’t be any future contact” with him.
“We haven’t used it, I was unaware of it; it’s my campaign, it’s my responsibility,” Heiner said.
Heiner denies any connection with The Courier-Journal story and, when pressed by Jones, said he wouldn’t ask K.C. Crosbie to leave his campaign.
Bevin accused Heiner of plotting the attack against Comer.
“He personally told me months and months ago before I even got in this race that he knew things—not had heard things—that he knew things based on conversation that his people had had about Jamie Comer. You told me that yourself Hal, you told me in your office to my face,” Bevin said.
Bevin has been the subject of attack ads produced by super PAC Citizens For A Sound Government, which supports Heiner.
Former Supreme Court Justice Will T. Scott stayed out of the fight over the Comer allegations. He said he’d support whoever gets the nomination.
“If one of these fellas is lucky enough to beat me, I’ll support them even if they make me mad,” Scott said.