President Donald Trump gave Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin a Trumpian endorsement Monday night, just hours before Kentuckians go to the polls to decide if they’ll elect the Republican governor to a second term.
“He’s such a pain in the ass,” Trump said of Bevin. “But isn’t that what you want?”
It was a backhanded compliment meant to highlight how hard Bevin works for Kentucky, but it also called attention to the governor’s biggest political weakness: his penchant for making controversial remarks that alienate friends and foes alike.
Bevin is now leaning heavily on Trump’s popularity in Kentucky as he attempts to become the first Republican elected to a second term as governor of Kentucky.
“Now he is difficult I have to say,” Trump said. “Maybe it will cost him the election, but it’s OK. He’s such a pain. When he needs something for Kentucky like money, like aid, like when he wants me to call one of the many manufacturers now that are coming into Kentucky.... I say Matt do I have to do it, please, please. But isn’t that really what you want him to do?”
It was a Trump rally, not a Bevin rally. People sported stickers saying Bevin/Alvarado and Bevin’s staffers were seated directly behind the President, but Trump was the star.
“I didn’t even know this is for Matt Bevin,” said Blake Fellmy, of Louisville. He was quick, however, to say he supports Bevin because of his stance on abortion and what he’s done for the economy.
Thousands packed into a mostly-full Rupp Arena to listen as the president delivered his campaign hits and railed against the media, Democrats and the impeachment inquiry that has consumed Washington D.C. Several supporters donned white t-shirts that said “read the transcript,” echoing the White House’s line that Trump did nothing wrong when he asked the President of Ukraine to investigate a political opponent.
The event, though, has huge importance for Bevin, who is locked in a tight race with Democrat Andy Beshear, the attorney general. Bevin has tied himself tightly to the president as he attempts to win back support after waging a public battle with teachers over their pension system.
Trump complimented Bevin throughout the night, calling him to the stage and saying he was working hard to defend Kentucky. He praised Bevin’s efforts to reform Kentucky’s adoption and foster care system and tied Beshear to the national Democratic Party.
“Beshear is too liberal, too extreme and too dangerous for the state of Kentucky,” Trump said. “Tomorrow, everyone needs to vote Republican.”
National political observers have kept a close eye on the race for Kentucky governor, one of just three gubernatorial elections happening this year. Recent public polling has shown the race tied in a state Trump won by almost 30 points in 2016. The importance of the race — and how it will shape the perception of the president’s strength — was not lost on Trump.
“You’re sending that big message to the rest of the country, it’s so important, you got to get your friends, you got to vote. Because if you lose it sends a really bad message. And they will build it up,” Trump says. “You can’t let that happen to me.”
Republicans are hoping that message resonates with their base. In the closing weeks of the campaign, Bevin has been leaning hard on national issues and social issues and has criticized the Democrats’ effort to impeach Trump.
On Monday, Bevin focused more on urging people to vote Tuesday. In both the short speech he gave while standing next to the president and the speech he made before the president arrived at the arena, Bevin talked about the civic duty of voting.
Instead of using his normal campaign stump speech, he leaned on American history, quoted Edmond Burke and talked about the sacrifices Americans have made — Pilgrims coming to America, soldiers facing starvation at Valley Forge, soldiers who stormed Omaha Beach during World War II, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
He asked the crowd if they want a better America as much as those historic figures did.
“We’ve got to go to the polls tomorrow and let our voices be heard,” Bevin said.
Erica Billingsly, of Glasgow, was at the rally with her mother, Claudette Cole, and daughter. Both Billingsly and Cole said they supported Bevin, particularly for his stance against abortion, and said they appreciated his effort to overhaul the state’s ailing pension systems.
“I’ve never found anything Bevin said to be untrue,” Billingsly said. “Sure, maybe he doesn’t have much tact, but those things don’t bother me.”
Billingsly said she had talked to people in line that weren’t big fans of Bevin, but she was optimistic that Trump would get them to support Bevin by the end of the night.
“I think Trump will turn every anti-Bevin person in this room,” Billingsly said.
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