Last week, after Rep. Geoff Davis (R-KY) suddenly announced he will not seek re-election to his congressional seat, LEO Weekly was the first to speculate that Lewis County Judge Executive Thomas Massie would be a formidable Tea Party candidate to run for that seat.
Other media outlets later confirmed that his name is being tossed around as a serious contender. LEO also mentioned Alecia Webb-Edgington as a possible strong candidate from the establishment wing of the Republican Party, and this weekend, she confirmed to the Enquirer that she will indeed run.
This morning, LEO Weekly spoke with Massie, who said he has not made a final decision but is giving serious consideration to running.
He said Tea Party leaders have encouraged him to run, and he has also received positive feedback from possible donors. His main issue in determining whether to run is that he wants to ensure he is holding up his commitment to the people of Lewis County who elected him last November.
The following is a run down of our conversation with Massie, during which he discusses 1) his thought process behind the decision, 2) who he is receiving encouragement from, 3) his views on social issues, 4) his foreign policy views, 5) fundraising, and 6) the possible field of candidates.
Massie: As I said when we spoke last time (October), if Geoff Davis would have run, he would have won every time he ran until he retired, so this took everybody by surprise. When his press release went out, my phone started ringing off the hook. It was basically all of the Tea Party folks that I know (encouraging me to get in). And a lot of Rand Paul’s ground team here in Kentucky called as well.
So it’s a big decision, and the biggest decision for me is figuring out how to keep the commitment I have to my county. And that was my major hang up all weekend, but I kind of had a breakthrough last night and that’s what I’m working on today. I’m trying to study how my replacement would happen if I were to run, and if I were to win the primary. Before I say much I need to study our constitution and KRS a little more.
LEO: Does being a congressman interest you?
Massie: It’s kind of like my job here as county judge executive, it’s something that needs to be done. And I think we’ve got a crisis in Washington D.C. I think we could look like Greece in another two years, maybe four, if we don’t do something up there. And I’d be willing to fight that fight, too. It’s not something I ever anticipated doing this early. Even when I spoke to you before, it was something that figured, well, maybe in 10 years.
LEO: I’ve never heard you speak about social issues before? What’s you position on issues like abortion and gay rights?
Massie: Let’s see, what does Gatewood say. Everybody’s precious, but nobody’s special.
I think where you’ll find a distinction between me and possibly the party line sometimes is I’m not a big fan of the pat downs at the airports. I’m not a fan of indefinite detention for American citizens taken on American soil. These are the issues that I might be differentiated from some of the other names that are being thrown out there, on civil liberties.
LEO What about abortion?
Massie: I am staunchly pro-life.
LEO: What about gay rights? Would you be for civil unions?
Massie: On this one I kind of take the Rand Paul/Ron Paul view of things, that this should be left up to the states. It’s a state issue. And the federal government really shouldn’t get involved in that.
LEO: So you wouldn’t be for a federal marriage amendment that outlaws gay marriage in all states?
Massie: No, I don’t think the federal government should be involved in marriage.
LEO: I haven’t heard any of your foreign policy views. Do you follow in the line of Ron and Rand Paul?
Massie: I’m probably closer to Rand than Ron. But the reality is, we’re going to have to reduce foreign aid. We just can’t afford it.
LEO: Do you think we should withdraw from Afghanistan?
Massie: Since I haven’t decided that I’m going to run yet, I’d rather not put my platform out there. But I think you get a feel for where I am on a lot of this stuff. I don’t think we can afford to borrow money from China and give it to foreign countries.
LEO: What are the odds of you running for office right now?
Massie: My biggest issue right now is keeping the commitment to the county. I have to solve this before I can consider running for Congress. I am not a political opportunist.
As I said at the Scott County event you were at, I think I used the analogy there that I’m just kind of a dog that chased the bus and somehow ended up on it. And I never really intended to be on the bus, but it still feels odd to walk up to the courthouse and put the key into the door and open up the courthouse. Two years ago I was walking into the office and complaining to the guy on the other side of the desk.
Another factor is to see who else is talking about running. If somebody steps up to the plate that represents the platform that I think our country needs to get back on track fiscally, then perhaps I could support them.
LEO: Is Alecia Webb-Edgington someone who represents that platform?
Massie: No comment.
Massie: But suffice it to say, I had phone calls all weekend, and they’re going to be going through the day. And I’m going to be making trips this week and talking to folks.
One thing I did do this weekend is test the waters from a fundraising standpoint. Because in my own judge’s race, it cost about $20,000 and I just self-funded the whole thing. Even though I was offered money, I though wouldn’t it be different and nice if somebody could get in office just once without taking a dime of money and not owe anybody anything but their hard work? And that was my approach in the judge’s race. I don’t have that luxury if I decide to run for U.S. Congress. This is a primary that will probably take half a million dollars. So this weekend, just to kind of test the waters, I made some phone calls. Nobody sent me any checks, no money changed hands, but I just wanted to test the waters and see what I could get in terms of pledges, if you will, how much money I could touch. And out of about the first 12 phone calls I got 10 folks who would go all in, which is $2,500 a piece. And that was very encouraging. And I mad a few phone calls to folks in my network that extends out of the state, and they’re excited about it as well. Unlike the statewide elections we just had, you can and will have to raise money from all over the country. I satisfied myself that that money will be there if I decide to pull the trigger.
LEO: There are rumors out there that you are extremely wealthy and would be able to self-fund this race. Is that true?
Massie: Rumors of my wealth are vastly exaggerated. I traded most of my federal reserve notes for land when I came back to Kentucky. I thought it was a better trade to have trees than dollar bills. I don’t know, I’d probably be willing to cut 200 acres of timber (joking).
This is a race where you have to use other people’s money, but will I put my own skin in the game? I sure will.
(Massie also noted that he was able to raise $32 in venture capital for the business he ran in Massachusettes, Sensable Technologies.)
LEO: Your wife hasn’t vetoed you running?
Massie: She has not vetoed it, and she’s actually very supportive. I’ve heard there’s three things you don’t do if you want to keep your marriage. You don’t start a company together, you don’t build a house together, and you don’t run for office. We’ve done all three of those and we’re still together. So she she’s super strong.
LEO: (Reference to his odds if he is the lone Tea Party candidate against Webb-Edgington, as opposed to many Tea Party candiates in the primary splitting their vote and giving Webb-Edgington a better chance to win)
Massie: I don’t think we’ll let that happen, the Tea Party. Even though it’s kind of grassroots, and a movement more than a party like the Republican Party, it’s a bunch of individuals is what it is. There are still folks within the movement that are thought leaders, and I think we can probably get together and decide on a candidate. And I’ve been making those phone calls all weekend.
So there you go. If I had to guess, I’d say he’s running, and will receive widespread statewide Tea Party support. If he is the lone Tea Party candidate, we’d venture to guess that he will be the favorite against Webb-Edgington. I wasn’t sure if he was one of those libertarians whose freedom extended to a woman’s uterus, but he’s not, so this won’t be an issue for him in the virulently anti-choice 4th District primary. the biggest question mark at this point is how many Tea Party candidates get in. If people like Boone County Clerk Kenny Brown get in, he would certainly be able to pull in a large amount of votes in that county, just as other county-wide Tea Party leaders would be able to. If they manage to split up the vote, Webb-Edgington might manage to win easily.
This could get interesting, and it might set the stage for yet another Tea Party vs. KY GOP establishment rumble. And there would certainly be more drama (and democracy) if a Democrat gets in the race, too. According to the Campbell County Democrats, they will:
“4th District Democrats will field a strong Congressional Candidate to face who ever the opposition nominates. Governor Beshear’s performance last month has energized Democrats throughout Kentucky. Democrats believe that the current crop of Republican Presidential candidates will not aid a Republican candidate in a race for an open set due to the current Republican front runners–Romney and Gingrich being extreme flip-floppers on the issues dear to the hearts of Kentuckians. Both Romney and Gingrich have at one time sided with President Obama on many issues of the day.”
As we first reported Thursday, most of the buzz centers around Nathan Smith, who would be a formidable candidate, but still probably an underdog in this conservative district.