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GOP governor candidate Heiner gave his campaign $4M; Comer says Heiner trying to buy election

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FRANKFORT, Kentucky — Republican governor hopeful Hal Heiner has $3.9 million in cash to spend on an election more than a year away.

But nearly all of that money came from Heiner himself, which set off an early war of words Monday with his presumptive Republican rival James Comer, the state's agriculture commissioner.

Heiner's campaign announced Monday that the Louisville businessman donated $4 million to his own campaign to go along with the $192,000 it has raised from donors since the campaign launched in March.

A spokesman for Heiner said the donation signifies Heiner is a political outsider who won't be dependent on the traditional political powerbrokers to fund his campaign. Spokesman Joe Burgan said Heiner "believes that the future of Kentucky is worth investing in."

But Comer accused Heiner of trying to buy the election.

"I'd rather have a lot of support than a lot of money," Comer said. "It looks like the only person invested in Hal Heiner is Hal Heiner."

Comer is not a candidate for governor yet. He told The Associated Press on Monday he is focused on campaigning for Republican state House of Representatives candidates as they try to win a majority there for the first time since 1920.

Heiner, meanwhile, launched his campaign in March and ran his first TV ad during the Belmont Stakes. In three months, he and running mate KC Crosbie have visited 60 of the state's 120 counties. And Heiner has said he will not hold formal fundraisers until after the November House elections.

"Jamie Comer continues to attack his fellow Republicans before deciding whether to enter the race, but 'attack first, ask questions later' seems to be the natural instinct of career politicians," Burgan wrote in an email to The Associated Press. "It reinforces the idea that status quo politics is not going to help Kentucky unlock its vast potential."

John McCarthy, former chairman of the Republican Party of Kentucky, said Heiner's $4 million donation will make his campaign viable and offer him an early advantage over would-be challengers.

"But I think the campaign has to demonstrate that that can be turned into votes," McCarthy said. "It has been difficult to do that."

Comer might not sit on the sidelines much longer. He said Monday he is considering starting his campaign earlier than he had planned - but not because of Heiner.

"(House members) are starting to encourage me to think about getting in the race a little sooner just because of the fact that Democrats are all kind of unifying behind (Attorney General Jack) Conway and they don't want to see Conway elected governor," Comer said.

Heiner and Conway are the only announced candidates so far for the 2015 governor's race. They are vying to replace Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear, who cannot seek re-election because of state term limits. Other Democratic candidates considering running for governor include Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo, former U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler, former Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo and Lexington banker Luther Deaton.

Fundraising numbers for Conway were not available yet. Candidates have until midnight Monday to file their reports with the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance.

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