Politics & Government

Candidates for Kentucky governor offer surprising picks for president at KSR debate

Kentucky gubernatorial candidates Matt Bevin (R), Jack Conway (D), and Drew Curtis (I).
Kentucky gubernatorial candidates Matt Bevin (R), Jack Conway (D), and Drew Curtis (I).

Debating on Kentucky Sports Radio on Wednesday, the three candidates running for governor of Kentucky offered some surprise names when asked who they back for president.

Republican Matt Bevin indicated that he would support retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, independent Drew Curtis said he likes Donald Trump, and Democrat Jack Conway refused to say, suggesting that he was waiting to see whether Vice President Joe Biden enters the race.

Conway said that Bevin's answer — he said he liked Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who has dropped out of the race, before offering kind words for Carson — will make for a "testy" campaign event Saturday, when U.S. Sen. Rand Paul is scheduled to campaign with Bevin.

Host Matt Jones then pressed Bevin on his answer, noting that Paul is running for president and is from Kentucky.

"At this point I'm looking at people who I think would have the best chance of uniting all the pieces," Bevin said. "I think the world of Rand. He's a friend of mine. He's been very gracious to me and vice versa when he ran. But in terms of who I would select right now for the next president, he would not be the first choice that I would make."

Shortly after the debate, Bevin backpedaled on Twitter.

"To be clear. I like Ben Carson, but am not endorsing him or anyone for POTUS. Have never endorsed in my life. If I did would #StandWithRand," Bevin posted.

When asked about his presidential preference, Conway hedged, making no mention of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont or former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley.

"I'm a Democrat, and I vote Democratic," Conway said.

When pressed by Jones, Conway indicated that the death of Joe Biden's son, former Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, and the vice president's possible run for president were behind his reasons for hedging.

"Out of respect for my dear friend, the former attorney general of Delaware, I'm going to say I intend to vote for the Democratic nominee," Conway said. "I just don't know who that is yet."

When Jones again said that Conway wasn't answering the question, Bevin said: "Get used to that."

The Republican super PAC America Rising released a statement after the debate that Conway introduced Clinton as "the next president of the United States" last year at a campaign event for then-U.S. Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes.

The current occupant of the Oval Office also became an issue, as Bevin led off his opening statement by saying that he is the "only guy on this stage who didn't vote for Barack Obama twice."

Curtis said he couldn't remember who he voted for in 2012, leading Bevin to call "baloney" and accuse Curtis of voting for the president.

The rest of the debate fell into familiar territory on some of the key issues facing the commonwealth.

Curtis, who is running as an independent, emphasized that he would focus on reforming the state's pension system, pledging that on his first day in office, he would "drop a big fat audit" on the Kentucky Retirement System.

"They claim there's nothing wrong going on over there, but they refuse open-records requests," Curtis said. "I find that problematic. I'd like to see what's going on over there."

Curtis reiterated that he would serve only one term if elected, saying that would allow him to "take all the blame" for some of the unpopular decisions that need to be made to address the state's fiscal problems.

On the issues, the candidates offered some well-worn responses.

Conway and Curtis said they were in favor of letting Kentuckians decide whether to allow casinos in Kentucky. Bevin said he was opposed to expanded gambling, calling it a "sucker's bet."

Curtis and Bevin aligned on the issue of medical marijuana, while Conway said he was opposed to its legalization.

Curtis and Conway said they thought Gov. Steve Beshear has done a good job in his eight years in office, and Bevin said Beshear has been "highly ineffective" and "absolutely terrible."

Conway struggled when asked whether he would defund Planned Parenthood, the women's health group that has come under fire from Republicans, saying he is opposed to public funding being used for abortion services but arguing that it is not possible for a governor to defund the group.

And Bevin struggled when Jones pressed him on why he was refusing to follow the bipartisan tradition of Kentucky gubernatorial candidates releasing their tax returns.

After Bevin said Jones hadn't done his homework, Jones dared Bevin to name one candidate in the modern era besides former Gov. John Y. Brown Jr. who had not released his tax returns.

Bevin was unable to name such a candidate, and he suggested that his tax returns are nobody's business.

"If I did release my taxes, which frankly are not the business of people to go into what I've done or not done with my money, you would find that I make a lot less money than Jack Conway and I give a lot more of it away to charity," Bevin said.

The candidates also were asked who they would support when the Kentucky Wildcats and the Louisville Cardinals play each other.

Conway, who said he "grew up a huge Kentucky fan," refused to pick one or the other, saying he likes both programs and the state is lucky to have two Hall of Fame basketball coaches.

Bevin, who said during a spring appearance on Kentucky Sports Radio that he would take Louisville Coach Rick Pitino over Kentucky Coach John Calipari, said Wednesday that he would back the University of Kentucky.

"I learned my lesson last time by trying to be diplomatic that it is important when speaking to Big Blue Nation to pull for Big Blue Nation, so I'd have to go with Kentucky," Bevin said.

Curtis didn't hesitate, picking the Wildcats.