FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Making a direct appeal to blue-collar workers, longtime legislator Rocky Adkins portrayed himself Thursday as the Democrat best able to win back support in rural Kentucky as the former college basketball player officially filed to run for governor this year.
Despite spending more than three decades in the Kentucky legislature, Adkins acknowledged that he's viewed by some as an underdog candidate. The May Democratic primary includes two other candidates who have won statewide races.
"I'm not entitled to this job to be the governor," Adkins told reporters at the state Capitol. "I'm probably not the chosen one to be governor of this commonwealth. .... But I'm going to tell you what we will do. We are going to earn the trust and the respect and the confidence of the people of this great commonwealth of Kentucky."
Adkins shook hands with supporters who chanted his name as he arrived at the secretary of state's office to formally join the race. He becomes the third Democrat to file for governor, joining state Attorney General Andy Beshear, the son of ex-Gov. Steve Beshear, and frequent candidate Geoff Young. Former state Auditor Adam Edelen also says he's running.
Republican Gov. Matt Bevin says he'll run for a second term in 2019 but has not yet filed his candidacy papers in the secretary of state's office. Two Republicans who have filed for governor are state Rep. Robert Goforth and William Woods.
Adkins, the minority floor leader of the Kentucky House, on Thursday touted his eastern Kentucky roots and his long tenure in the legislature, where he's been entrenched as a member of the Democratic leadership team. For years, he helped guide legislation as majority floor leader until the GOP took control of the chamber after the 2016 election.
Adkins, who is from Elliott County, is hoping his moderate views persuade rural voters to return to the Democratic fold. While voters in his home county voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential race, they also re-elected Adkins to the legislature with 66 percent of the vote.
After formally entering the governor's race, Adkins paid tribute to workers who "grabbed a dinner bucket and a hard hat and a pair of steel-toed shoes" to work in frigid conditions.
"I believe working families of Kentucky are worth fighting for and that is the reason we're in this race — to fight that fight," he said.
Adkins said he'll compete in every region of Kentucky but said he's the Democrat best able to win back rural voters who have switched allegiance to Republicans.
"I have a relationship with people in rural Kentucky that we may have lost," he said.
Adkins stressed his support for public education and public employees, investment in infrastructure and a health care system that's affordable and accessible. Adkins noted that both he and his running mate, Stephanie Horne, are cancer survivors. Horne is a real estate attorney and business owner and a former member of the Jefferson County school board.
Adkins also pointed to his ties to basketball in a hoops-obsessed state. The former Morehead State University basketball player said he's approaching the campaign with a "point guard mentality."
"And the point guard mentality is you make Kentucky better by not looking in the mirror and it says 'me, me, me,'" he said. "The point guard mentality is how we look at we, and when you make your team better, you make yourself better."
Beshear has raised $1.16 million since launching his campaign last summer, a total that includes $20,000 of his own money. Adkins has raised $620,000 since announcing his campaign in November.
If his campaign falls short, Adkins pledged Thursday that he'll support whoever wins the Democratic primary.