There were many surprising numbers in last year's U.S. Senate election, ending with the margin of victory (15.5 points).
But perhaps no other number was as shocking or concerning for Democrats than 12,000. That's roughly the number of Louisville Democrats who went into voting booths and pulled the lever for U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth and then left without voting for Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes.
That number, pointed out by Kentucky writer James Higdon, presented a harsh new reality for Kentucky Democrats — there was only so much the liberal base was willing to put up with from its own party.
On gun control, environ mental protection, support for President Barack Obama and many other issues, Kentucky's Democratic candidates lean hard to the right in search of conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans. Liberals are left to suck it up and vote for their party or, as happened last year, simply walk out in disgust and disappointment.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
That liberal frustration is palpable again this campaign season as the Democratic nominee for governor, Attorney General Jack Conway, continues the tradition of courting Big Coal and gun owners while taking positions that are anathema to the left, such as supporting drug-testing for welfare recipients and refusing to defend Planned Parenthood.
But unlike last year, some liberal Democrats say they will vote for Conway no matter how frustrated and disappointed he makes them.
It's not that they're fired up to vote for a candidate who has made fundraising the major focus of his campaign, proclaimed that he has done nothing as attorney general to anger the National Rifle Association and joined Bevin at a secret, out-of-state debate hosted by the coal industry. It's that they are terrified of the alternative.
"Matt Bevin is that scary," said Greg Capillo.
Capillo is a liberal activist, one of the protesters dragged from a Frankfort committee room by Kentucky State Police this year after lawmakers refused to consider a proposal to restore voting rights to felons who have completed their sentences.
Capillo, who lives in Lexington, went into the voting booth last year and voted for a down-ballot Democrat — congressional candidate Elisabeth Jensen — and then wrote in the name of a candidate for U.S. Senate instead of voting for Grimes.
A double-whammy of insults — a Grimes ad about "illegal immigrants" and Grimes' refusal to say if she voted for Obama — in the closing days of the race were too much for Capillo and others.
Janet Tucker, former chairwoman of the progressive group Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, said she thinks Grimes' refusal to take bold positions on progressive Democratic issues helped cost her the election.
But Tucker, who described making calls for Conway's 2010 U.S. Senate race as "the most unpleasant experience I've ever had," is getting ready to work over the next three weeks to get out the vote for the Democratic candidate.
"As much as I don't like how the campaign's strategy is, I think it's really important that Conway wins this election," Tucker said.
There are two major issues where Bevin and Conway differ that appear to be forming the glue that's holding Conway's base together — union membership rules and health care.
Bevin's support for "right-to-work" legislation, which would allow employees at unionized work places not to pay dues, has ensured the state's dwindling number of union members stay firm for Conway.
On Wednesday, Conway took off his suit jacket, rolled up his sleeves and began working his way around a United Autoworkers luncheon for retirees in Louisville, shaking hundreds of hands, introducing himself and telling them, "We've gotta win this one."
Looking up from their barbecue, the retirees would nod and agree, then shake their heads with worry as they mentioned how concerned they were about the alternative.
But Grimes packed energized union halls last year, and she still lost by more than 15 percentage points.
Health care, however, could be the silver bullet that helps Conway overcome the growing disconnect between the two wings of his party.
Specifically, liberal Democrats despise Bevin's apparent desire to reverse Gov. Steve Beshear's exec utive orders implementing Kynect, the state's health insurance exchange, and expanding eligibility for Medicaid.
Conway has gone on offense in the health care battle, but he's not the only candidate in the race who opposes Bevin's general disdain for the health care programs.
For much of the race, it looked as if independent candidate Drew Curtis was a natural landing spot for liberal Democrats who didn't want to grit their teeth and vote for Conway. Then Curtis joined Conway and Bevin in the Kentucky Sports Radio debate, and host Matt Jones asked the candidates who they would support for president next year. Curtis' response that he liked Donald Trump was a killer.
"I think he put his foot in his mouth when he started talking about voting for Donald Trump," Tucker said. "He fell off the edge of the cliff when he did that."
Curtis later apologized and reversed his stance on Trump, but the damage was done, and Conway again became the de facto choice for Democrats who worry that the Tea Party revolution is about to spread to the Governor's Mansion.
On Wednesday, Conway disputed the idea that Democrats aren't excited to vote for him, arguing that energy is picking up as the Nov. 3 election gets closer and more people start paying attention.
But he acknowledged there are "some fears out there."
"And it's legitimate because there's stark contrast between the way I would govern and the way he would govern," Conway said of Bevin.
Like every other Democrat running for office in Kentucky, Conway is hopeful that conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans will support him, but that requires taking positions that leave liberal Democrats sad or seething.
"It's tough," Capillo said. "There's literally not a single likable candidate left in the race."
But the prospect of a Governor Bevin probably will be enough to persuade Capillo to pull the lever for Conway.
"I'm terrified," he said. "It's a much scarier situation if Matt Bevin were to win."