Standing under a freshly minted “Bevin/Alvarado” sign with a Marine Corps fighter jet behind him, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence lent Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin a valuable asset for his 2019 reelection campaign: the support of President Donald Trump.
“I am here not only to give our support,” Pence said. “But I bring the full and total endorsement of the 45th president of the United States, President Donald Trump,” Pence said.
Bevin has dismissed polls that show he is unpopular heading into his reelection bid — “polls schmolls,” the Republican governor has said — but support for Trump remains strong in a state that overwhelmingly voted for him in 2016.
In bringing Pence to Lexington Friday, Bevin and his lieutenant governor running mate, state Sen. Ralph Alvarado, previewed a strategy they’ll deploy often in the race: the governor’s connection with the Trump administration.
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The Kentucky race for governor could also be symbolically important for Trump, as he enters what is expected to be a difficult battle for reelection. Kentucky is one of only three states holding gubernatorial elections in 2019, alongside Louisiana and Mississippi, and the race will likely attract the attention of national media as they look for a barometer of Trump’s popularity heading into the 2020 presidential campaign.
Pence acknowledged the timing of the race, saying Kentucky had the ability to set the tone for the rest of the country.
“You can be the vanguard, you can lead the way,” Pence said.
Bevin has been a frequent visitor to Washington D.C. since Trump took office, going to conservative events and sitting on White House roundtables on criminal justice reform and the opioid epidemic. He counts Pence, the former governor of Indiana, among his friends.
“Our Vice President Mike Pence is a guy who is true to his core,” Bevin said. “This is a guy who respects God and country.”
Bevin, the only incumbent governor on the ballot in 2019, has attracted a primary challenge from state Rep. Robert Goforth, R-East Bernstadt. He’s also attracted three high-profile Democratic candidates: Attorney General Andy Beshear, former Auditor Adam Edelen and House Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook.
Bevin stayed away from talking about his opponents, instead touting his record. He rolled out what will likely be his campaign stump speech at his first major reelection event. He referenced the “Blueprint to a Better Kentucky” that he unveiled in 2015, and said he’s accomplished several of his goals, such as passing “right-to-work” legislation, reforming the tax code and cutting back on government regulations.
Bevin compared the effort to shoveling “stuff” out of the barn after it has accumulated over the winter.
“We’ve had a long hard political winter,” Bevin said. “Things have piled it up and we are shoveling it up.”
Both men pleaded with the audience of a couple hundred people, each of whom paid between $1,000 and $2,000 to attend, to tout his record to their friends and family and on social media. Bevin asked people to “knock doors like you’ve never knocked doors” and “make phone calls like you’ve never made phone calls” while Pence urged them to spread the word.
“Talk about this man,” Pence said. “Talk about this incredible first lady. Talk about this incredible Bevin family… and talk about the record. Talk about what we talked about today.”
Pence stuck largely to national politics in his remarks, referencing Trump’s emergency declaration for a border wall and imploring U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Bowling Green, to support the plan (Paul doesn’t).
He did make references to Bevin’s agenda and often circled back to implore the audience to send him back to the “statehouse.”
“America is back and we’re just getting started,” Pence said. “And that’s why we need four more years of Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin. After we get that done we need four more years of President Donald Trump.”
This won’t be the last time Bevin and Pence see each other this weekend. Both, alongside U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, are scheduled to attend a Republican gathering at Sea Island Resort in Georgia, hosted by American Enterprise Institute, a conservative political research group, according to Politico.