Politics & Government

Bevin remains unpopular, but was Tuesday’s election a sign he’s safe in 2019?

His name wasn’t on the ballot Tuesday in Kentucky and candidates who were up for election mostly avoided him like the plague, but Gov. Matt Bevin was one of the day’s big winners.

Republicans think the election results bode well for Bevin in his re-election bid next year.

“You can write it down right now. Matt Bevin is going to be re-elected governor of Kentucky,” a jubilant state Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said Wednesday morning. “That’s what we’re going to be talking about this time next year.”

Democrats, though, remain defiantly doubtful.

He’s not that popular, even among many Republicans, said former Democratic state Auditor Adam Edelen of Lexington, who is giving “very serious consideration” to running for governor next year. Edelen is expected to make an announcement around Thanksgiving.

“There were more sightings of Sasquatch in Kentucky this fall than Matt Bevin on the campaign trail for Republican candidates,” said Edelen. “He’s been toxic politically to Republicans and they didn’t want him.”

In Morning Consult’s last two quarterly rankings of America’s most and least popular governors, Bevin has ranked fourth lowest in the country.

When Bevin did campaign, he was throwing his support behind an Independent candidate in Northern Kentucky, causing a stir among House Republicans.

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin speaks at the Republican Party of Kentucky’s Lincoln Dinner at the Hilton Downtown in Lexington, Ky., Aug 25, 2018. Marcus Dorsey mdorsey@herald-leader.com

Tuesday’s election results, however, illustrate the difficult path ahead for Kentucky Democrats hoping to capture a statewide office in 2019.

Democratic legislative candidates actively ran against Bevin and his agenda in Frankfort this fall, placing their hopes on the idea that teachers and state workers, furious with Bevin over his proposed changes to the state’s pension system and some of his eyebrow-raising comments, would vote in large numbers and help Democrats place a check on Republican power in Frankfort.

But they barely made a dent on Election Day.

Democrats gained only two seats in the 100-member House and lost one seat in the Senate, allowing Republicans to keep a super-majority in both chambers in the 2019 General Assembly.

Democratic candidate Amy McGrath’s race in the Sixth Congressional District painted an even starker picture for the Democratic Party, illustrating the deep divide between rural and urban parts of the district.

Despite McGrath’s stated strategy of appealing to rural voters, the race was only close because of McGrath’s unusually high margin in Lexington.

U.S. Rep. Andy Barr, R-Lexington, consistently played up his access to the president and was aided by President Donald Trump’s visit to Richmond — he won Madison County, the district’s second largest county, with 59 percent of the vote.

Bevin, too, would likely benefit from his relationship with Trump. The governor has made frequent trips to Washington D.C. during Trump’s tenure to talk about topics like criminal justice reform, health care and workforce development.

He also greeted Trump at Blue Grass Airport when Trump came to campaign for Barr.

“If I didn’t like him, I’d say forget about him,” Trump said from the stage. “But I like him a lot. He’s a terrific man and a terrific governor: Matt Bevin”

The crowd responded with a mixture of cheers and boos.

Bevin is on an economic development trip in China this week. His chief of staff, Blake Brickman, said Thursday in an email that Democrats made a bad bet by running against Bevin.

“The real winners of the night are the people of Kentucky, who elected candidates that will continue to promote the forward-thinking, pro-growth agenda that has been championed by Gov. Bevin and the Republican majority,” Brickman said.

Democrats “took a huge gamble in running against the very people and policies that have created more economic successes for the state in the last several years than the Democrat majority did during the previous 95 years,” he said.

Several Democrats who are interested in running against Bevin differed with that analysis.

Attorney General Andy Beshear, who already has announced his campaign for governor, said voters haven’t forgotten the harsh words Bevin has had for many of them.

“Gov. Bevin has directly insulted or attacked the livelihood of every teacher, police office, firefighter, EMS, social worker and every public servant across Kentucky,” Beshear said. “On top of that, he’s trying to eliminate health care for nearly 80,000 Kentuckians. We’re confident Kentuckians will reject Matt Bevin and will elect this ticket in 2019.”

House Democratic Leader Rocky Adkins of Sandy Hook, who may make known soon his candidacy for governor, said Bevin is “very beatable next year.”

“His approval rating is in the tank, with one national poll showing that less than a third of Kentuckians support him,” Adkins said.

Former House Speaker Greg Stumbo, who is considering running next year for attorney general, acknowledged that Bevin is “a pretty good retail politician, but Democrats, if they stick together, can beat him next year.”