With virtually all votes counted in Kentucky, Democratic challenger Andy Beshear leads incumbent Republican Gov. Matt Bevin by more than 5,000.
Kentucky voters dealt a huge blow on Tuesday to Donald Trump and the state's senior senator, Mitch McConnell, as they elected Attorney General Andy Beshear (D) over Gov. Matt Bevin (R), pending a possible recount. After declaring war on public education and working to undermine health care access, Bevin had tried to make the race about the impeachment of Trump.
According to Kentucky secretary of state's office, Beshear has been declared the winner, though Bevin has thus far refused to concede. With all precincts reporting, Beshear had a 5,189 votes advantage, 709,577 to 704,388. The votes will likely be double-checked in the upcoming days. Kentucky has no automatic recount law, but Bevin could request one. Beshear has claimed victory.
Bevin ranked as the nation's least popular governor for much of his term but ran with the strong support of both Trump and McConnell. Trump repeatedly talked up Bevin in the primary and general elections, calling him "one of best governors in U.S. [sic]."
Voters felt otherwise. Bevin ran on a promise to destroy Kentucky's nationally acclaimed Obamacare system and has fought hard to do just that as governor, demanding onerous work requirements for Medicaid recipients that could cost tens of thousands of low-income Kentuckians their health care, and proposing to spend $270 million to do it. When teachers in the commonwealth went on strike to demand more funding for public schools, Bevin fought against them and accused them of enabling child molestation. He even complained during cold snaps that closing schools to keep kids safe if freezing temperatures was a sign that people are "getting soft."
Bevin's campaign included race-baiting ads claiming that Beshear "would allow illegal immigrants to swarm the state," and repeated attempts to tie Beshear to the impeachment inquiry in Washington, D.C. — a process in which the Kentucky attorney general and governor typically have minimal involvement.
Trump's 2020 campaign manager said Tuesday night that Trump had nearly reelected Bevin: "the President just about dragged Gov. Matt Bevin across the finish line, helping him run stronger than expected in what turned into a very close race at the end. A final outcome remains to be seen."
But Trump had made the race a referendum on his own popularity in a state he won by about 30 points in 2016. He told Kentucky voters on Sunday that "we have to send a strong signal to Nancy Pelosi and the Radical Left Democrats" by backing Bevin. His son Don Jr. held a poorly attended rally for Bevin in August. Mike Pence visited Kentucky the same month and praised Bevin's handling of the opioid crisis.
Days before the election, Trump himself held a major rally with Bevin, where he explicitly warned his supporters, "If you lose, it sends a really bad message... and if you lose, they're gonna say Trump suffered the greatest defeat in the history of the world. This was the greatest. You can't let that happen to me."
McConnell, who defeated Bevin in a 2014 Senate primary, also played a key roll in supporting Bevin this time around. With an approval rating no better than Bevin's, the Senate majority leader could face a tougher than expected reelection next year.
Though an October poll showed a tied race, Bevin claimed days ago that he would win the race by between six and 10 points. "I think you’re going to be shocked at how uncompetitive this actually is," he told the New York Times.
After the results were posted, Bevin suggested that he could have lost because of "irregularities," and said he was not conceding the "close, close race" by any stretch. But given that Republicans simultaneously won other statewide offices, it will be hard for him to credibly argue that he was somehow cheated out of victory.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.