Louisville Courier Journal
Published 11:02 AM EST Nov 8, 2019
Gov. Matt Bevin trotted down the stairs at Lexington's Rupp Arena on Monday, hours before President Donald Trump's raucous rally started.
With state Sen. Ralph Alvarado, his running mate, behind him, the governor's appearance created a commotion loud enough to be heard over Billy Joel's "Piano Man" blaring through the arena.
"The president could be coming for any reason at all, and it would be quite a party," Bevin told reporters. But Trump was coming to back him.
Bevin's swagger told reporters — and eventually Trump — that he was going to win.
Even the governor's skeptics thought the GOP could sweep all six statewide races, and they mocked how Attorney General Andy Beshear's best surrogate was Democratic House Leader Rocky Adkins, who is beloved in Eastern Kentucky. But a few whispered they didn't know how the race would end.
Hundreds of miles away, Beshear was knocking on doors in Western Kentucky. He didn't have a president, senator or national Democrat he could — or would even want to — invite.
A late Monday night plea, paid for by the Kentucky Democratic Party, featured former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, but never mentioned Beshear by name.
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But as Beshear campaign manager Eric Hyers explained, the last day of campaigning was a microcosm of the entire race. He said while Bevin was basking in Trump's spotlight, they were meeting Kentuckians fed up with the governor's behavior.
"I can't tell you how many times people walked in our offices or sent us an email saying, 'I'm a Republican' or 'I voted for him four years ago' and he's attacked me, my family and has made my life worse," Hyers said.
On Election Day, the governor posted several tweets from his official account touting the administration's accomplishments while encouraging people to vote.
He tweeted a call to voters, using a picture of a U.S. soldier's grave.
"VOTE Because some can’t," he wrote. "We should! Some gave all to ensure that we have the right to choose our leaders."
Hyers' Election Day began with watching weather reports showing rainfall in Louisville and Northern Kentucky, two areas where the Beshear campaign needed heavy turnout.
"I looked at the radar and saw this giant line of rain literally hitting those two places and was like, 'Oh, my God, how is this possible?'"
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But the downpour subsided before noon, and when the results started coming in, the attorney general was ahead.
"We knew really early on that we were going to get the electorate we wanted," Hyers said.
Bevin's tune changed a bit by the middle of the day. He took to Twitter, where he criticized the national media for being "shocked" at how competitive the race appeared to be.
"REMINDER: Kentucky has far more registered Ds than registered Rs (& always has) I am only the 4th R Gov elected since the 1920’s," Bevin tweeted.
Gone were the predictions of winning by 10% that he had proclaimed to the New York Times and to the president.
Soon after the polls closed, Republicans began to see what was happening as they were celebrating early victories at the Galt House in Louisville.
Everyone besides Bevin had huge turnout and larger margins of victory.
"When Bevin took that early lead, he wasn't winning Republican counties by a wide enough margin," said state Sen. Damon Thayer, a Georgetown Republican. "And when the numbers came in from Campbell and Kenton, I knew he was in big trouble."
No place was that more obvious than Northern Kentucky. In 2015, Bevin won Campbell County by a 54-41 percentage margin. He lost the same area to Beshear by a 51-46 margin this year.
Whether it was Bevin coming out in favor of tolls for the Brent Spence Bridge over the Ohio River or resentment for dropping Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton, a tea party favorite, is hard to tell. But voters were splitting their tickets between Beshear and the rest of the GOP slate.
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Bevin raked in about 704,400 votes in total. That was significantly lower than all other Republican candidates, who ranged from 746,000 to 855,000 votes.
Thayer, the state Senate floor leader, said that can only be interpreted as a rebuke of Bevin's personality, which had eclipsed the administration's achievements. He pointed, as an example, to Bevin denying how Republicans legislators advised against calling a special session last year to tackle pension reform.
"We advised him not to call it, and he basically called me a liar in the newspaper, which I really didn't appreciate, because I was right," Thayer said of the special session, which adjourned in less than 24 hours.
"Sometimes in politics you have to admit you were wrong," he added. "I did (Wednesday) on the radio. I never believed polling saying Bevin was the least popular governor in America — I was wrong."
Democrats declared victory on social media once the final precincts were reported. Beshear soon took the stage as governor-elect.
But Bevin wasn't going away quietly.
"We are not conceding this race by any stretch, not a chance," Bevin said to roaring applause at the Galt House.
Hyers, the Beshear campaign manager, said the governor-elect ran on bringing civility back to state politics and will stay above the fray.
"He has a budget to put together," he said. "He owes the people of Kentucky to be the best governor he possibly can, and that starts immediately."
Republicans have expressed little interest in the governor's Hail Mary. Unless Bevin provides concrete and overwhelming evidence overturning 5,200 votes — Andy Beshear is going to be the next governor.
Bevin is already being treated as yesterday's news by Republicans who are pleased with sweeping all the other statewide seats. Others have shifted focus to defending Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell ahead of next year's federal election.
Thayer said that leaving the GOP party on Tuesday, most attendees were pleased with the overall results of capturing the attorney general's office for the first time since World War II and upsetting Democrat Heather French Henry in the secretary of state's race.
"Everybody else absolutely crushed it," he said.
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Reach Phillip M. Bailey at [email protected] or 502-582-4475.