Friday, November 01, 2019

Kentucky Governor Election

Status: Republican Incumbent
2016 Presidential Result: Red State (South)

Prediction: Tossup (D)

Political handicappers, amateur and professional alike are feeling hindered by the lack of polls in this race. Without a tremendous data pool of information, this is more of a guessing game than anything. The incumbent has been very unpopular during his four years in office, but the opposition party has a very uphill battle in winning statewide, though they used to dominate the Commonwealth. We will find out on Tuesday... probably.

Four years ago, Republican Matt Bevin entered Election Day considered a modest underdog. He had been a somewhat fluke winner of his party's primary by a scant 83 votes statewide, and many believed he ran an undisciplined and disappointing general election campaign. Kentucky voted though and Bevin won the Governorship by nearly nine points. This was a surprising result that showed just how Republican the Bluegrass State had become and was certainly a foreshadowing of the success the GOP would enjoy the next year in conservative areas, regardless of past political pedigree or economic status.

Bevin, a former Tea Party activist who first made his name in politics by an unsuccessful challenge to U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has not had a smooth ride as Governor. He has feuded with Democrats and the media, not much unlike Donald Trump on the federal level. A difference though is that many members of Bevin's own party have continued to publicly snub him. In this May's primary, the incumbent was held to an unimpressive 52 percent of the vote against three candidates. The most serious contender, who won 39 percent was State Representative Robert Goforth, a fairly little known figure. There does not seem to have been any coming together after the primary between the two former rivals. Nonetheless, 52 percent is a lot better than wining by 83 votes and Bevin went forward in an attempt to become the first ever Republican Governor of Kentucky to win a second term.

Candidates must run with their picks for Lt. Governor in the primary and there was one change on the Bevin side. While four years ago, he picked Tea Party activist Jenean Hampton, an African-American woman as his running-mate, Bevin surprised many, including the Lt. Governor herself, by dumping her in his bid for reelection. Instead, he filed papers to run with State Senator Ralph Alvarado, a physician.

The Democrats had a field of four candidates for Governor, each with their own pick for Lt. Governor. Three of these tickets were considered possible of winning the nomination. Finishing in third place, with 28 percent was the most liberal of the contenders. Adam Edelen had been the statewide elected Auditor of Kentucky before losing reelection to a Republican in 2015. Finishing in second place with 32 percent was the most conservative of the three major Democrats. State Senate Minority Leader Rocky Adkins had been around politics for decades and was seen as having the best chance to appeal to culturally conservative voters in a general election.

The nomination went though to the candidate who likely had the most famous name. Andy Beshear was able to overcome the GOP tide in 1995 to be elected Attorney General. This came as his father Steve Beshear was finishing up two terms as Kentucky's Democrat Governor. Now 41 years old, the younger Beshear is looking to take the job of the man who replaced his father as Governor. This is somewhat similar to Jerry Brown succeeding Ronald Reagan in California, (or George W. Bush taking the Presidency when Bill Clinton retired)  although Reagan had beaten the elder Brown, served two terms, and was not a candidate when the son won the office. The Lt. Governor running-mate of Andy Beshear is Jacqueline Coleman, a teacher and non-profit founder. She had lost a bid for State Representative a few years earlier.

Many feel that if Beshear even comes close to defeating Bevin, that such a result would portend bad things for Republicans in Kentucky headed into 2020. I do not think that is the case. Statewide contests can traditionally be very different than federal races and Matt Bevin's political vulnerabilities are likely a product of the man himself. Another Republican might be faring much better at this point, while it is also possible that a more conservative Democrat would have a better chance of winning.

As mentioned, polls on this race have been few and far between and political junkies have been wanting to see them, especially since Bevin's surprisingly weak primary victory. The most recent poll had the Democrat Beshear ahead by a whopping 19 points, but not even Democrats are said to believing those numbers. Some earlier Democrat polls have given Beshear a smaller but firm lead. The only non-partisan poll since June seems to be from Mason-Dixon and shows a complete dead heat. Polls have consistently shown Bevin to be among the most unpopular Governors anywhere in America but as Election Day approaches, some Republicans may have warmed up a bit more and those numbers seem to have slightly improved. Mitch McConnell, the former Bevin opponent, is said to be actively working to reelect the Governor.

All things considered, Bevin is in a very poor spot for an incumbent. Conventional wisdom would be that he would lose, but everyone is mindful of his somewhat surprise victory four years ago and by the solid margin he won by, before he is counted out. Donald Trump is seen as having low job approval numbers nationwide, but that is not the case in Kentucky, which is almost certainly one of his strongest states, due to coal mining and all that. The incumbent will be flying in on Air Force One on Election Eve this Monday to stump for Bevin and the other Republican candidates, whom are believed to be favorites in their own races. This appearance by Trump, whom will certainly try to nationalize this race by talking about impeachment and the Democrats in Washington D.C. could truly make a difference in this race in favor of the candidate of his party. We know he will take all the credit on Twitter if that occurs.

Neither result in this race will surprise me one bit, including a victory by more than five points from either candidate. What I would most want to know is what Republicans who do not like Bevin will do in this race. While rural Democrats are likely to keep voting conservative, could urban and suburban moderate Republicans in the Louisville area go for a Democrat this year?

Since I absolutely have to offer a guess, I will say that Beshear narrowly wins, as Democrats have almost always done in Kentucky Gubernatorial contests, even as the state has gone very red at the federal level. If this does not come to pass, and Bevin, with all his problems, wins another four years, Democrats would probably be wise to forget all about any attempt to knock off Mitch McConnell next year.


At 3:10 PM, Blogger Steve Boudreaux said...

Baby Beshear defeated Bevin by 5,000.


Post a Comment

<< Home