Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin stood side-by-side with President Donald Trump Wednesday as he descended from Air Force One and later got a shout-out in the president’s speech. At U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ rally in Louisville Sunday, Attorney General Andy Beshear was nowhere to be found.
It is one of the sharpest contrasts in the campaign for governor. As Bevin has clung to the national Republican Party in attempts to boost his popularity ahead of November’s election, Beshear has distanced himself from national Democrats.
Sanders did not mention the Kentucky gubernatorial campaign — one of just three statewide elections this year — during his presidential campaign rally Sunday, turning his fire instead to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who isn’t on the ballot until 2020.
The feeling appeared mutual. The Beshear campaign did not answer questions about a visit from one of the most recognized Democrats in the country, a man who is one of the frontrunners to win the Democratic nomination to challenge President Donald Trump next year.
It is common for candidates to bring in popular members of their national party to rally their base ahead of an election — even for Kentucky Democrats who have long had a love-hate relationship with their national party. In 2014, then Democratic Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes played up her connection to Bill and Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Democratic candidate Amy McGrath brought in Joe Biden.
He has attempted to walk a fine line throughout his campaign for governor — avoid alienating his Democratic base while trying to attract moderates who may not be fans of Bevin but don’t like the national Democratic party.
Beshear deflects when he is asked to weigh in on national politics or the latest scandal du-jour of Trump, saying he’s worried about issues that affect Kentuckians. He stumbled in a stump speech this summer, saying he wanted to stop “the negative policies of Donald Trump.” The Republican Governors Assocation immediately featured the line in attack ads.
Bevin quickly jumped on Sanders’ Louisville appearance Sunday, posting a video to YouTube criticizing Beshear and calling Sanders “crazy Bernie.”
“Andy Beshear, who is in line with Bernie Sanders — they share the same part, the same ideology, they share the same values on many fronts,” Bevin said before listing some of Sanders’ stances. “…these are the kind of things we want to reject here in Kentucky. Not only with crazy Bernie, but with Andy Beshear this fall in November.”
Sanders was more focused on his role in the Senate Sunday. He accused McConnell of standing in the way of Senate votes on several of Sanders’ most valued issues — climate change, health care and raising the minimum wage.
He brought up that Kentucky has 10 of the 25 poorest counties in the country, and derided McConnell for caring more about his political contributors than the people of Kentucky.
“I’ve got a radical idea,” Sanders said. “Sen. McConnell, why don’t you listen to the people of Kentucky?”
McConnell has openly embraced his reputation for blocking votes in the Senate. After being called the “grim reaper” by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, McConnell leaned in, proudly saying he is blocking the “socialist” agenda of the Democratic Party.
This month, however, the push back has gotten stronger. Shortly after being christened “Moscow Mitch” for blocking votes on bills that would allocate money for states to boost their election security, two high-profile mass shootings this month led to calls for McConnell to allow votes on bills to address gun violence in America.
McConnell is up for reelection in 2020 and has already drawn potential Democratic challengers, including former Marine Corps pilot Amy McGrath, who is attempting to use McConnell’s obstruction as a theme in her campaign.
McConnell’s office did not comment on Sanders’ speech, instead directing the Herald-Leader to an op-ed by McConnell dismissing Democratic proposals like the “Green New Deal” and “Medicare for all” by calling them “dangerous.”
At least one person on the stage Sunday had his eyes on 2019. When introducing Sanders, U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, said Democrats need to knock Bevin out of office this year.
“The reason we have the governor we have is because people didn’t come out to vote in 2015,” Yarmuth said. “And we’re not going to let that happen again.”
Yarmuth also didn’t mention Beshear by name.