House Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins won Rowan County in last month’s Democratic primary election for governor with 89 percent of the vote. On Monday, he asked those voters to flip their support to the man who beat him statewide: Attorney General Andy Beshear.
“We need to flip that over,” Adkins told a crowd at the Fuzzy Duck coffee shop in Morehead Monday morning. “You know how to get that done. You’ve done it for me for years and years and years.”
Beshear, with Adkins by his side, spent the day touring Eastern Kentucky in hopes of winning over conservative-leaning Democrats who didn’t support him in the May 21 primary, when he won only 38 percent of the Democratic vote in a tough three-way race.
Beshear, who won the Democratic nomination with strong support in Lexington and Louisville, must now convince rural Democrats that he’s a better bet for their economic future than Gov. Matt Bevin, a Republican who is trying to tie Beshear to the socially-liberal stances of the national Democratic Party.
“We’re the forgotten part of the state, as well as Western Kentucky,” said Susette Redwine of Morehead. “We have as many wants and needs as Lexington and Louisville and we need attention, too.”
Redwine, who described herself an “avid” supporter of Adkins, said Beshear must commit to participating in “small town politics” to gain support from people in Morehead. Redwine said she believes Beshear is sincere in his desire to win over Eastern Kentuckians.
“He’s committed to being out here,” Redwine said.
On Monday, Beshear worked through an updated version of his stump speech, focusing on health care, education and good paying jobs as he painted the race as a contrast between himself and Bevin.
“I hope you see that just like Rocky I am passionate and I am committed to a better Kentucky,” Beshear said. “You don’t have to look any further than the eight- and nine-year-old I raise every single day. Those kids, just like your kids, deserve a better commonwealth and I truly believe that we can build it. One where the sky is the limit on their potential and they can always find an amazing job in the community they grew up in.”
As Beshear worked the backroom of the coffee shop, he largely kept the focus on education and health care. When Sherrie Davison, of Morehead, brought up “women’s issues,” Beshear talked about the importance of equal pay for women.
Davison said she supported Beshear in the primary in part because of his pro-choice stance on abortion, but said she didn’t want it to become the single biggest issue in the general election.
“I’m disgusted that women’s rights is still even on the table,” Davison said.
Bevin has already made abortion a prominent issue in the race. After a legislative session that allowed Bevin to sign several bills restricting abortions into law, he has criticized Beshear for being endorsed by national abortion-rights groups and for refusing to defend some of the new abortion restrictions in court.
“They’re going to see that Matt Bevin is hiding behind a single social issue because he can’t get elected on his own record,” Beshear said.
Adkins, who voted in favor of most of the bills pushed by Republicans to restrict abortion, said he thinks Beshear will have to talk about the issue with voters.
When asked if his anti-abortion supporters will be able to vote for Beshear, Adkins was unsure.
“I don’t know that yet,” he said. “I think that’s an issue he’ll have to address. Opinions vary strongly.”
Adkins stressed that Beshear will have to spend a lot of time in rural Kentucky if he hopes to win those voters in November. While former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jack Conway won both Rowan and Elliott counties in 2015, his margin in Rowan county was relatively narrow. Meanwhile, Bevin won both counties in his primary bid last month and both counties voted for Donald Trump in 2016.
“The way you gain support is you gain it through building trust and confidence in those communities across rural Kentucky,” Adkins said. “Andy Beshear needs to live and spend a lot of time in rural Kentucky. He needs to basically talk about the agenda he supports and allow people to get to know him as a person... today starts the building of that relationship.”
Bevin, too, struggled in May in many rural counties, especially in southeastern Kentucky. State Rep. Robert Goforth, who won 31 counties in his bid against Bevin, said he has not been approached by the Bevin campaign about going on a unity tour.
“I’ll support the Republican Party in November,” Goforth said.
In a written statement, Davis Paine, Bevin’s campaign manager, illustrated the argument Bevin is making against Beshear in rural communities — that Beshear has a D behind his name.
“While Andy Beshear proudly stands with national liberals like Hillary Clinton and the pro-abortion lobby, Eastern Kentucky will stand with Governor Matt Bevin and President Trump’s strong record of creating 50,000 new Kentucky jobs and protecting life,” Paine said.