Politics & Government

To beat Matt Bevin, Andy Beshear will have to take on Donald Trump

VP Mike Pence brings endorsement to Bevin’s 2019 reelection campaign

US vice president Mike Pence flew into Lexington Friday, March 8, 2019, to speak at governor Matt Bevin's reelection campaign fundraiser within the Aviation Museum of Kentucky.
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US vice president Mike Pence flew into Lexington Friday, March 8, 2019, to speak at governor Matt Bevin's reelection campaign fundraiser within the Aviation Museum of Kentucky.

At Hillbilly Days in Pikeville this spring, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin could be heard mentioning one name in particular over a chorus of boos from supporters of House Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins: President Donald Trump.

It’s a name that carries a lot of weight in Pike County, uttered by a governor who has largely lost the support of voters in the area.

In 2016, Trump won Pike County with 80.1 percent of the vote and won the state of Kentucky by a larger margin than he won Alabama. On Tuesday, Bevin lost Pike County to state Rep. Robert Goforth, R-East Bernstadt, by almost 8 percentage points.

Now, as Bevin tries to win back voters in Pike County and the 30 other counties he lost in the primary, the relationship between the two men could be key to helping Bevin hold on to power in Frankfort.

“I respect the man,” Bevin said of Trump outside the Governor’s Mansion Tuesday evening. “He loves America, he’s busting his tail to address hard things that need to be discussed. We have a good relationship. He will be here, he has made that clear. I look forward to it, the people of Kentucky look forward to it. How many times, we’ll see. I couldn’t even begin to imagine.”

Nationalizing elections has long been a part of the Republican playbook in Kentucky, from decrying President Barack Obama’s “war on coal” to winning a super majority in the state legislature the same election year Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton said she was going to “put a lot of coal miners out of business.”

Armed with that knowledge, Attorney General Andy Beshear has been disciplined in keeping his focus on state issues heading into the general election race for governor against Bevin. In his victory speech Tuesday night, the Democratic nominee shook off the notion that the election would be about national issues.

“It is not about what’s going on in Washington, D.C,” Beshear said. “It’s not about the nasty attacks that Matt Bevin has already launched, starting tonight. And it’s not about right vs. left. Folks, it’s about right vs. wrong.”

Andy Beshear speaks to supporters after winning the Kentucky Democratic gubernatorial primary at the C2 Event Venue in Louisville.

Beshear has built a campaign around reminding people of some of Bevin’s most controversial statements. He calls Bevin a bully and says he uses the office to intimidate and harass people. But when asked about Trump, who has had similar allegations lobbed at him by national Democrats, Beshear immediately changes his tune.

“My relationship with any president all comes back to Kentucky. I’ve been a Kentucky-first attorney general,” Beshear told the Herald-Leader. “I’ll give you an example with the current president. There are some things he’s done that have helped Kentucky, one of them is he’s funding our cold case unit through the department of justice that’s helping us get those indictments out of the rape kit backlog. That’s good. But his Department of Justice’s attempts to tear away health care in those three national lawsuits that I’m in are wrong and I’m going to fight him on it.”

While Bevin got a smattering of boos when he was introduced at a Trump rally for U.S. Rep. Andy Barr last fall, he’s had kinder crowds during Vice President Mike Pence’s two visits during the primary. Bevin also got support from Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Ivanka Trump, who both made appearances in Kentucky this spring. The president also posted two tweets about the Kentucky election Tuesday, first telling people to vote for Bevin, then congratulating him for winning. He even recorded a primary eve phone call for the governor to encourage Republicans to vote for Bevin in the primary.

“Gov. Bevin has done a tremendous job leading Kentucky, with generational low unemployment rates and jobs coming back to the Bluegrass State,” said Tim Murtaugh, communications director for Trump’s 2020 campaign, told the Herald-Leader. “He has been a great supporter of President Trump and the president wants to see him re-elected in November.”

Bevin’s efforts to nationalize the governor’s race will be made easier as the 2020 elections begin to take center stage this year, potentially diverting attention from state issues in the race for governor.

There are already more than two dozen Democrats vying for the chance to take on Trump in 2020 and in Kentucky, U.S. Senate Majority Leader McConnell has begun an energetic reelection campaign that will also be tied closely to Trump. McConnell’s introductory campaign video includes footage of Trump hailing the Kentucky Republican as a “rock-ribbed Kentucky leader.”

Bevin will find support from McConnell, the man he once tried to oust.

“Obviously I support the governor and we are going to work hard for his reelection,” McConnell told the Herald-Leader.

A potential visit to Kentucky by the Republicans’ newest villain might also play into Bevin’s hand.

U. S. Rep. Andy Barr invited U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. to tour a coal mine in Kentucky in the aftermath of her Green New Deal proposal, an offer she immediately accepted. The offer now appears up in the air after Barr asked Ocasio-Cortez to apologize to another Republican member of Congress before coming to Kentucky, but the prospect of a visit to Kentucky by Ocasio-Cortez has both the Republican Party of Kentucky and the Republican Governors Association drooling.

The RPK has been going to Democratic events with a cardboard cutout of Ocasio-Cortez as a way to tie the candidates to her policies, while the RGA has challenged Beshear to take a stance on the Green New Deal. Should Ocasio-Cortez actually make the trip to Kentucky, it will make things difficult for Beshear as he tries to win voters who went heavily for Adkins in Appalachian Kentucky.

On Wednesday morning, Bevin’s campaign released his first video of the general election. In it, he noted that Beshear was backed by Planned Parenthood and says Beshear proudly voted for Hillary Clinton. And, he complimented Kentucky for being the first state to be called for Trump in 2016.

“In combination with policies in Washington and our relationship with this White House, we are marching Kentucky forward,” Bevin said.