When discussing Kentucky, we are faced with what we heard about Election Day 2019 and what we did not hear about the outcome of that election. Most mainstream media analysis focused on the gubernatorial victory of Democrat Andy Beshear against Reublican incumbent Matt Bevin. Despite the doom and gloom and all the emphasis on the almighty suburban vote, Matt Bevin, perhaps the most unpopular governor of either party, lost by about 5,000 votes.
Kentucky is a state that Trump won by 30 points and should have been an easy victory for Mr. Generic Republican. Bevin is no “generic Republican.” He was prone to pick fights with every constituency in the state. Instead, Bevin was reduced to blaming his loss on unspecified “irregularities.” He was convinced to lay aside his accusations and conceded defeat.
Lost in the analysis is the fact the GOP swept all other statewide elected offices. Heather French Henry, the former Miss America, could not get within 64,000 votes of the unheralded secretary of state, Michael G. Adams. One can rest assure that the GOP in Kentucky is counting the days to 2023 when the bench will be deep to unseat Beshear.
That bench includes James Comer who lost the 2015 GOP primary to Bevin by a mere 83 votes. Congressman Brett Guthrie has expressed interest in a gubernatorial run in the past. State treasurer Allison Ball won 61% of the vote this year and carried 117 of 120 counties, including Franklin which is blue. Agriculture commissioner Ryan Quaries, who also carried Franklin county, and state auditor Mike Harmon are other possibilities. Ball, Quaries and Harmon are all term-limited in 2023.
As GOP strategist Scott Jennings said, there is a branding problem in Kentucky, but not with the GOP. But for Bevin, Republican conservatives prevailed in all statewide races.
Another factor in Beshear’s victory is the fact that voter turnout was up from 2015. This has some Democrats hopeful for 2020. The political arm of the AFL-CIO said they helped register 800,000 new voters. Amy McGrath, who is hoping to unseat Mitch McConnell in the Senate, said she will utilize these boots on the ground come 2020. However, despite this surge in registration for the gubernatorial race by special interest groups, voter turnout was still 35% below that of 2016. Boots on the ground, 800,000 registrations and 41,000 doors knocked on managed to get their man over the finish line by 5,000 votes against an unpopular figure.
The other thing we do not hear about is Eldon Dummit. He was the last Republican attorney general of Kentucky in 1943. But in 2019, Daniel Cameron won for the GOP by over 160,000 votes over Greg Stumbo, the former state assembly speaker. Most importantly, Cameron became the first African-American to win statewide office in Kentucky breaking the 220-year-old color barrier. We do not hear about this achievement because Cameron is Republican and conservative.
As for McConnell, the Democrats believe they have their foil in Amy McGrath. She will not have to contend with McConnell, but Trump will be at the top of the ticket in 2020 in a state where he is still very popular. Every six years we are reminded of how unpopular McConnell is in his home state, yet every six years McConnell is returned to DC. McConnell is not a politician who leaves anything to chance. His recent complaint about a sports talk show figure with the FEC who formed an exploratory committee to challenge McConnell is instructive. After being taken off the air amid the charges, the talk show host dropped his bid to unseat McConnell. In short, McConnell wants McGrath as his foe and given the fact she could not win a congressional race against a vulnerable Republican in a year favorable to Democrats may explain his reason why.
Regarding the Trump factor, although Bevin lost despite a last-minute rally from Trump, many believe Trump’s visit made the race closer than originally believed. And Beshear was smart not to nationalize a state race. What is becoming increasingly clear is McConnell moving closer to Trump. For that rally, McConnell flew in Air Force One with Trump. McConnell is a Republican in the more traditional mold and he needs the President’s supporters to support him also.
As for Beshear, he faces a state legislature dominated by the GOP. Remember also he won with less than 50% of the vote as a Libertarian took 2%. In the state senate, the GOP dominates 29-9 and 61-39 in the General Assembly. To steal a phrase, the Kentucky legislature will assume the role of #TheResistance. Equally important, Beshear will not have Republican state senator Dan Seum’s backing as he resigned his seat after the election after endorsing Beshear.
There are two things on the legislative agenda that should fire up the conservative base. In the area of school reform, the teacher’s unions are demanding more pay and funding. Also, protection of the unborn should be a priority. We shall see how Beshear handles these issues when he has to. Until then, the media and Democrats can talk all they want about the significance of Beshear’s election, but in a conservative state like Kentucky- despite what the pundits say- Beshear might be lucky to get a pooper-scooper law passed.