Politics & Government

Pork chops, pizza and Bluegrass. Democrats push hard at end of gubernatorial primary.

Adkins rallies East Kentucky base before primary

Rocky Adkins rallied his Democratic, Eastern Kentucky base with stops in Paintsville and Pikeville Saturday, ahead of the primary election Tuesday.
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Rocky Adkins rallied his Democratic, Eastern Kentucky base with stops in Paintsville and Pikeville Saturday, ahead of the primary election Tuesday.

In a primary election where only one eighth of Kentuckians are expected to vote, the Democratic gubernatorial candidates vying for a chance to potentially take on Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin spent the weekend wooing any voters they could find.

For House Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, that included serenading voters with Bluegrass music. For Attorney General Andy Beshear, that included a lunch stop in Louisville for pork chops and collard greens. For former Auditor Adam Edelen, that included buying pizza for volunteers who spent a sweltering day knocking on doors.

All three candidates said they felt enthusiasm for their campaigns was growing in the final weekend of the campaign, but their positive outlooks have been coupled with negative attacks between Edelen and Beshear.

Beshear, who has been criticized by Edelen and Republicans because his former deputy attorney general is in prison for political bribery, chided Edelen for going negative in the primary.

“I know campaigns are tests of integrity. And I know ours has passed it and I can’t say that about others,” Beshear said, without mentioning Edelen by name. “Voters know we can’t beat Matt Bevin by acting like Matt Bevin.”

Edelen shrugged off Beshear’s criticism.

“My guess is that Andy’s polling shows that he’s cratering,” Edelen said.

Adkins has stayed out of the fray. Appearing at Paintsville’s Spring Fling Festival in temperatures edging into the 90s, Adkins gamely took a spin around downtown, shaking hands, posing for pictures and asking people to vote for him.

“I’m not going to get in the mud,” he said. “I’m going to talk about the agenda that’s needed for Kentucky. I’m going to talk about how we lead Kentucky forward.”

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Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rocky Adkins shook hands and posed for photos with supporters in Paintsville on Saturday. Will Wright

Instead, he’s pitching himself as the Democrat most likely to be able to oust Bevin by attracting conservative Democrats and disillusioned Republicans.

“From east to west and the urban areas as well, we feel momentum and energy,” Adkins said as he chatted with longtime family friend Mary Jo Kelly, 81. “We’ve been talking about what we can do to make it a better Kentucky and I tell people I’m common sense, middle of the road.”

Adkins has built an enthusiastic base in Eastern Kentucky where he’s from (the left hand fork of the Middle Fork in Elliott County), and has run a campaign focused heavily on rural voters. Adkins pitches himself as a proven commodity after years in the state legislature, but that’s what gives pause to Jeanette Cantrell, a Paintsville teacher.

She took an Adkins sticker and posed for a picture, but said she hasn’t yet made up her mind who she will vote for on Tuesday.

“I’ve got some reservations with him being there that long in Frankfort,” she said. “But I’m still researching.”

Adkins said he’s felt renewed energy among supporters in the past three weeks.

“We’ve got a strong organization in all 120 counties,” he said. “We raised the money we needed to be on TV to run a top notch campaign, but I still come from the old school — you still win campaigns on the ground and in the trenches and that’s the reason we’re going to win this election.”

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Adam Edelen chatted with local campaign organizer Fiorella Salazar and other supporters Saturday evening as he celebrated their efforts with a pizza party at his Lexington campaign headquarters. Matt Goins

At his Lexington campaign headquarters, with four boxes of Domino’s pizza sitting on a nearby table, Edelen made a similar argument, arguing he is in the best position to win based on how many voters his campaign has contacted in Lexington and Louisville.

“I believe that a few thousand votes will pick the winner in this primary,” Edelen told his assembled volunteers. “So when you get tired, or you get worn out or your knuckles start to hurt from knocking on doors I just want you to remember if we don’t win this race Matt Bevin gets another four years.”

The campaign started making phone calls to Lexington voters in February, according to Edelen’s Lexington field organizer, Fiorella Salazar. Edelen said they’ve reached more voters than will likely vote in the election.

“Anybody who tells you they know what the outcome is going to be at 12.5 percent turnout is being dishonest,” Edelen said. “We have the most motivated voters, I think our polling shows that, but we invested heavily in the field and I think we’ll see that bear fruit on election day.”

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andy Beshear grabs a hearty lunch of pork chop, mac and cheese and collard greens from Rochella Arnold at Franco’s Restaurant in Louisville Saturday, May 18, 2019, during a break from the campaign trail. Jack Brammer

After spending the morning in Louisville campaigning, Beshear greeted diners at Franco’s, a soul food restaurant on Dixie Highway in Shively, where he grabbed a hearty lunch of pork chop dripping with gravy and laden with mushrooms, a dish of mac and cheese and another side of collard greens. A campaign assistant said the thin candidate works out every day.

Beshear said his message to voters in the final days of the campaign is that he is “the guy who has kept his promises.” He has largely run on his record as attorney general, citing efforts to go after child predators, opioid manufacturers and people who scam senior citizens, and challenging the Bevin administration’s policies in court.

The Kentucky governor, who’s been a looming presence in the race, came up among some of the Beshear supporters at the restaurant.

“Yeah, Bevin hurt himself when he went against the teachers,” said Rev. Gregory Smith of Hill Street Baptist Church, referring to Bevin’s pension proposal for teachers.

Smith invited Beshear to “worship” with him sometime at his church. Beshear said he would and then had a request for Smith: “I’ll gladly take your prayers, too,” the candidate said.

Beshear, too, said he is seeing “a surge of support this weekend” for his campaign, especially in action by phone banks. “It’s just not that they know we can beat Matt Bevin but that we can govern and govern well.”