Race to the finish in Kentucky gubernatorial election

Gov. Matt Bevin (R-Kentucky) and A.G. Andy Beshear (D-Kentucky) faceoff in an election that's too close to call (Source: Gray DC).
Gov. Matt Bevin (R-Kentucky) and A.G. Andy Beshear (D-Kentucky) faceoff in an election that's too close to call (Source: Gray DC).(GRAYDC)
Published: Oct. 4, 2019 at 1:12 PM EDT
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As we enter the final leg of the Kentucky Governor’s race, between Gov. Matt Bevin (R-Kentucky) and A.G. Andy Beshear (D-Kentucky) -- experts paint a picture of a finish fit for Churchill Downs.

President Donald Trump and his family are throwing their political weight behind Gov. Bevin’s re-election bid. Bevin said Kentucky benefits from his close relationship with the president, adding that voters know he has his arms around the state’s challenges too.

"Foot on the gas, doing the right thing," said Bevin of his push for re-election, "the people of Kentucky will sort it out."

Bevin touts job growth during his term and that he’s the only governor in state history to fully fund teacher retirement benefits.

He stands by his push to scale back future pension payouts, as well as his effort to strip Medicaid benefits from an estimated 95,000 Kentuckians. Courts blocked both efforts.

Bevin said tough choices balance the books. "If you don’t have a strong economy, if you don’t have jobs, everything else becomes a moot point," he said, "you can’t afford anything that people want government to do if you don’t have revenue coming in."

Attorney General Andy Beshear made a habit of challenging Bevin in court before challenging him on the trail.

"I believe this election isn’t one about Democrats vs. Republicans or even right vs. left," he said in a sitdown interview, "it’s a very simple election of right vs. wrong"

Beshear said he’ll be focused on workers over CEOs. He called for closing tax loopholes for the wealthy, legalizing and taxing medical marijuana, and expanding legal gambling. That, he said, can pay for investments in public education, pensions, health care, and spurring job growth. "And, on each one of those Matt Bevin is wrong and he’s harmful to Kentuckians," Beshear said.

Political scientists said despite the state’s strong Republican lean, the governor is vulnerable. It’s reasonable to say this race could still go in either direction," said University of Kentucky Political Science Professor Michael Zilis.

A survey this summer pegged Bevin as the least popular governor in the country. But, Zilis said modern voters are more likely to vote for a party than a candidate. "Voters are less and less frequently crossing party lines," said Zillis

He said that’s a fundamental challenge any Democrat in the deep red Bluegrass State. But, without a lot of polling in this race, Zillis said there's reason to believe it could happen. "We’re sort of at this point where we’re reading these different tea leaves," he said, "the Republican lean of the state, Governor Bevin’s popularity, the fact that he’s got a reasonably formidable opponent on the Democratic side."

Zilis said Beshear will need to get traction well beyond the liberal base in order to pull out a win this November. He said Gov. Bevin’s strategy of associating himself with President Trump makes sense given the president’s popularity in the state.

He said both candidates will need to focus heavily on driving turnout on election day, which is generally far lower in years when presidential candidates are not on the ballot.

Voters head to the polls Tuesday, November 5th.

Copyright 2019 Gray DC. All rights reserved.

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