James Comer Wins GOP Bid to Replace Ed Whitfield

James Comer, Kentucky’s former commissioner of agriculture, has secured the Republican nomination for Congress in the commonwealth’s 1st District with nearly 70 percent of the vote, The Associated Press projected Tuesday night.

In a district as red as this one, a Republican primary victory practically assures a victory in November, though he will face Democrat Samuel Gaskins in the race to replace Rep. Ed Whitfield, who is leaving office at the end of his term.

Comer entered the race with an advantage over his three Republican opponents, having led an unsuccessful bid for the party’s gubernatorial nomination against Matt Bevin just last year. In that campaign, he won the district, performing the strongest in its eastern counties who see an “exciting prospect” in sending someone to high office, said Scott Jennings, a former Bush administration official and a Republican strategist.

“They sometimes feel underrepresented in government,” he said.

The district’s media markets are a bit fractured. Unlike Republican Rep. Andy Barr’s Lexington or Democratic Rep. John Yarmuth’s Louisville, Kentucky’s 1st District has no centralized television station or newspaper, forcing candidates to play county-to-county for the local newspapers.

Against his opponents, Comer engaged early with a direct mail and radio campaign focusing on illegal immigration, urging Washington to “build the darn wall” along the southern border.

His most aggressive challenger was Mike Pape, a former aide to Whitfield who tried to run a campaign as a political outsider. Pape took shots at national groups such as the National Rifle Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce after they endorsed Comer, and even criticized Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in an area where the Senate’s top Republican has performed strongly in his own campaigns.

Another opponent was Jason Batts, the Hickman County attorney and a soldier in the Army Reserves.

“I think Batts could have a future,” Jennings said. “He’s got some ability and a good profile.”