The buzz continues to grow around Comer’s opponent, Erin Marshall Skip to content

The buzz continues to grow around Comer’s opponent, Erin Marshall

From Paducah to Frankfort, Dems are excited, and pundits are noticing.

A Democratic challenger hasn’t come even close to beating a Republican congressman in the First Congressional District for at least two dozen years.

But Democratic activists in the Jackson Purchase — the state’s long-gone “Democratic Gibraltar” — are abuzz over Erin Marshall. She’s the 29-year-old Frankfort single mom who is taking on incumbent James Comer, whom Northern Kentucky Tribune columnist Bill Straub ID’s as “R-WhereverHeHangsHisHatIsHisHome.” More on why in a minute.

Marshall has fired up the faithful in the Purchase — and presumably district-wide — with a cannon shot across Comer’s bow that echoed from Frankfort to Fulton County: a professionally produced campaign rollout video that resurrected old charges — which Comer vehemently denies — that he abused his college sweetheart and took her to have an abortion.

The video is all over social media in the Purchase, as far west as Kentucky goes, and presumably elsewhere in the district.

Louisvillian Bruce Maples, who publishes the Democratic-leaning Forward Kentucky online, was planning just to post Marshall’s news release about the video. But after watching it, he wrote his own story, which turned out to be the week’s most-read post. The video “is one of the best I’ve seen, and I encourage you to both view it and share it,” he urged his readers. (Click here to see it.)

“I am very excited that she’s running,” said Kiesha Curry of Paducah, the McCracken County Democratic Executive Committee chair. “She’s a strong candidate, and it’s been a long time since we’ve had a strong candidate. I’ve reached out to her and I’m hoping to work in her campaign.”

Marshall is the first viable Democrat to run since Brian Roy in 2000. Roy, from Benton, was a Marshall County sheriff and U.S. marshal.

“The good thing is that she’s going to highlight an important issue, which is abortion,” said Graves County Democratic activist Leslie McColgin of Lowes. “She can tap into those that are particularly unhappy with these draconian abortion laws that are killing women.”

“We should do whatever we can do to support this candidate,” said Greg Weatherford of Arlington, who is on the Carlisle County committee. “Comer is just a tool. And not the sharpest tool in the shed.”

“The local media has completely ignored Comer’s buffoonery on the House Oversight Committee,” said Desiree Owen of the Ballard County committee. “I would educate the voters on this since no one else is, plus I agree with the pro-choice plank for her candidacy. That appears to be a winning issue with women voters everywhere.”

Predicted Murray State University historian Brian Clardy, a longtime Democratic activist who lives in Murray: “She is going to take the fight to Jamie Comer who has been an embarrassment to the First Congressional district and the country.”

Jennifer Smith, a veteran Paducah Democratic activist, is also “impressed that she is aggressively going after him.” She, too, is glad Marshall “brought up the abortion charges. The women I’ve talked to are fired up.”

Historically, the First District included the Purchase — Ballard, Calloway, Carlisle, Fulton, Graves, Hickman, Marshall and McCracken counties — and the western Pennyrile. Now the district stretches more than 300 miles eastward from the Mississippi River. It slides under the Second District and veers northward to Franklin County, which encompasses the state capital.

The U.S. House clerk’s website says Comer’s “hometown” is Tompkinsville. But he also has a house in Frankfort. Hence, Maples finds it “so deliciously ironic that when the Republicans gerrymandered the First Congressional District all the way to Frankfort as a favor to Comer, since he has a house there, they actually made it possible for this exciting candidate to run against him – because she also lives in Frankfort.”

Purchase Democrats are gleefully echoing the Jefferson countian’s jab.

For more than 160 years, Democrats ruled the political roost in the trans-Tennessee River region. But the Purchase, like most of Kentucky, has turned a deep shade of Republican Red. “Deepest Trumpistan,” one die-hard senior citizen Purchase Democrat calls his native land.

Here’s more irony: Straub, a Kentucky Journalism Hall of Famer, thinks Marshall probably will have more success at the ballot box in her hometown and the district’s central Kentucky counties than in the former Gibraltar. “The expansion of the First District may help her some, because the eastern part of the district would be more likely to side with a Democrat.”

Straub also suggested that Comer might be vulnerable, though he was reelected two years ago with nearly 75 percent of the vote, albeit over a largely unknown Democrat with little money.

“There are ways to get at him,” Straub said. “Basically he took on this Biden impeachment thing and has made a fool out of himself, but I don’t know what impact that might have on voters.”

In his weekly column, Straub has been birddogging the congressman for months. In his latest musing, headlined “Jamie Comer, alias Comer Pyle, has proved to be an abject failure; no facts on his side,” Straub wrote that “Comer, who, for all the world, comes across as an extra in a regional theater production of Li’l Abner, has spent a substantial amount of time, energy and ignorance over the past year and two months making the case that President Biden, the seemingly mild-mannered grandpa-like figure puttering around the White House lawn, is really the leader, the copo di tutti copi, of the biggest crime syndicate to threaten the American Way of Life™ since Whitey Bulger ran Boston.”

He concluded, “It is hard to imagine an inquiry of this stature being conducted in a more abysmal fashion. Comer undertook this operation simply to enhance Republican chances at the polls and his effort has resulted in an avalanche of innuendo and lies. As one Democratic committee member put it, the probe has uncovered more evidence against Trump than it has against Biden.”

Marshall may look like just another in a long line of Democratic lightweights. She’s never run for public office, though she’s a veteran campaign worker. Too, the district is largely Bible-belt conservative, and Comer, who never misses a chance to burnish his hard-right MAGA creds, has a big edge in name recognition and campaign cash on hand – for now anyway.

Marshall doesn’t pull punches on her campaign website either. “In the months and years since the overturning of Roe, I’ve stayed angry,” she says. “I stewed in it, livid at Trump, livid at Brett Kavanaugh and the entire Supreme Court, livid at James Comer. And then one day I remembered something that I used to know very well in my past life as a campaign organizer: WE have the power to change this.”

She says the incumbent “has spent his entire career spewing anti-choice, anti-woman nonsense, opposing reproductive freedom publicly while privately urging a past girlfriend to get an abortion (according to her, he even drove her to the appointment!). It’s time for him to be held accountable.”

Marshall is getting her share of earned media, including in the Louisville Courier-Journal and Lexington Herald-Leader, the state’s largest newspapers. Both have reported on the abuse and abortion charges.

The Democrat “is putting abortion,” and Comer’s alleged role in helping terminate his girlfriend’s pregnancy, “at the forefront of November’s race,” wrote the Lexington Herald-Leader’s Tessa Duvall and Alex Aquisto. They pointed out that the charge appeared during Comer’s unsuccessful bid for the GOP gubernatorial nomination in 2015. “Marilyn Thomas, Comer’s girlfriend from the early 1990s when the pair attended Western Kentucky University together, claimed he was physically and emotionally abusive toward her during their relationship,” they also wrote. “Thomas also said Comer drove her to Louisville for an abortion in 1991. The story was widely reported by media outlets across the commonwealth nine years ago.”

“In his four previous races for his first district congressional seat, Jamie Comer hasn’t faced the tough questions that derailed his bid for the governor’s office in 2015,” wrote Louisville Courier-Journal columnist Joe Gerth. “In that race, he told the Lexington Herald-Leader that he had never hit a former college girlfriend who he was rumored to have abused. After he did that, the former girlfriend came forward and told the Courier Journal that not only did he hit her, he took her to obtain an abortion in Louisville after she became pregnant.”

Matt Bevin, who went on to win the governorship, edged Comer by a mere 83 votes in the primary. “But the issue of abuse and an abortion hasn’t come up much since,” Gerth added.

Marshall, the C-J columnist concluded, “can make Comer work and − like no Democrat ever has − she’ll be able to tell the story of that day about 30 years ago when he allegedly drove his college girlfriend to Louisville so she could get an abortion.”

Though he lives in the Third District, Maples is rooting for Marshall, too. “I hear that people in the First District are ‘cranked’ about Erin Marshall’s campaign,” he said, tacking on a warning: “Well, if they are, they’d better show that excitement with their credit cards and checkbooks – because she is going to need lots of cold, hard cash to face Jamie Comer. At the end of 2023, he had over $2 million in his campaign fund. So, every voter in the First who wants to get rid of the embarrassment that is James Comer needs to dig deep and give, then dig deeper and give again. I’ve already donated, and I plan on continuing to donate all the way to Election Day.”

So, if you’re excited about Erin Marshall taking on Comer, click here to contribute to Marshall’s campaign.

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Berry Craig

Berry Craig is a professor emeritus of history at West KY Community College, and an author of seven books and co-author of two more. (Read the rest on the Contributors page.)

Arlington, KY

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