Attorney General Andy Beshear marched to victory in the Democratic primary for Kentucky governor Tuesday, laying the groundwork for a bitter battle with Gov. Matt Bevin that has been festering in Frankfort for three years.
The two political rivals, who have sniped at each other from their first-floor offices in the Capitol, will move their fight to the campaign trail through Nov. 5.
“It is not about what’s going on in Washington, D.C,” Beshear said from his victory party in Louisville. “It’s not about the nasty attacks that Matt Bevin has already launched, starting tonight. And it’s not about right vs. left. Folks, it’s about right vs. wrong.”
Beshear won Kentucky’s two largest cities to hold off a surge in Eastern Kentucky by House Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins and set up the familiar storyline for the fall.
“People in Kentucky are going to have a very clear and distinct choice in November,” Bevin said in front of the Governor’s mansion Tuesday night. “Conservative vs. liberal, black and white, it’s that clear.”
Running on his record as attorney general — including several lawsuits he’s filed against the Bevin Administration — Beshear described himself as a “fighter who gets results.” Widely considered the front runner in the Democratic primary from the time he entered the race last July, he picked up endorsements from several prominent Democrats.
“Beshear combined his own strong name recognition with the residue of strong feelings for his father to jump into a commanding lead that never dissolved,” said Stephen Voss, a political science professor at the University of Kentucky.
Beshear has built a reputation independent from his father, former Gov. Steve Beshear, in part because of his willingness to challenge several of Bevin’s executive orders and a Republican-backed pension overhaul bill in 2018.
Kentucky’s controversial Republican governor was the focus of Democrats’ ire for much of the primary. All three major Democratic candidates — Beshear, Adkins and former state Auditor Adam Edelen — built campaigns that centered around his unpopularity and promised they were best positioned to knock him out of office this fall.
Bevin scoffed at the suggestion that Beshear can beat him.
“Suing me is not beating me,” Bevin said. “It’s not... it’s a lot of empty talk but that’s what we’ve been getting from the Beshears for the last 10 years.”
Beshear was forced to walk a fine line in deciding how to deploy his father on the campaign trail. Steve Beshear remained popular throughout his eight years in office, but Edelen hit Andy Beshear with attack ads referencing a bribery scandal in Steve Beshear’s administration that bled over into his son’s tenure as attorney general.
In 2016, Beshear’s deputy attorney general was found guilty of accepting thousands of dollars in bribes to grant government contracts to certain companies when he was Steve Beshear’s Personnel Cabinet secretary. It was later revealed that Tim Longmeyer received at least $1,000 in bribes when he was deputy attorney general, though there is no evidence either Beshear knew of the scheme.
Edelen’s decision to bring Steve Beshear’s name and legacy into the race didn’t sit well with the Beshear family, especially since Edelen was at one time the elder Beshear’s chief of staff.
“I’d ask him how he got to be auditor if he didn’t have Steve Beshear,” Steve Beshear said in Lexington Saturday. “Democrats that go negative on other Democrats don’t do anything except help the Republican cause.”
The Republican side saw plenty of negative attacks as well. Bevin’s best-funded Republican opponent, State Rep. Robert Goforth, pumped $750,000 of his own money into his campaign and launched several ads denouncing the governor and criticizing him over some of his controversial statements.
Bevin played the incumbent card, ignoring Goforth while touting his relationship with the administration of President Donald Trump, who remains deeply popular in the state.
The governor treated Tuesday as just another day in his administration. He held a community forum in Woodford County at noon and greeted news of his primary win with a simple press conference in the Capitol as other candidates rented out hotel ballrooms. He picked up a Twitter endorsement from Trump earlier in the day.
Republicans will likely try to keep the emphasis on national politics heading into the general election. Already, the Republican Party of Kentucky has been hauling a cardboard cutout of New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to Democratic events in an attempt to tie them to their national party.
“By choosing Andy Beshear as their nominee, Kentucky Democrats have embraced a liberal politician and insider who thinks he’s entitled to the state’s highest office just because of his last name,” said Amelia Chassé Alcivar, communications director for the Republican Governors Association. “From supporting Hillary Clinton in 2016, despite her campaign promise to put Kentucky coal workers out of business, to his plans to grow the size of government, to his influence peddling pedigree, Andy Beshear is completely out-of-touch with the people of Kentucky.”
Meanwhile, Beshear will try to keep the focus on Bevin and his controversial remarks.
“We not only won this primary, we did something we’re going to do in November, we got more raw votes than Matt Bevin,” Beshear said.
The governor, who is prone to speaking off-the-cuff, has already aggravated several constituencies, including many members of his own party. He lost 31 of Kentucky’s 120 counties to Goforth.
The Kentucky Democratic Party was quick to call Bevin’s election results weak.
“Bevin’s inability to connect with voters and his controversial first term as Governor has left the Republican Party in Kentucky scrambling,” said Marisa McNee, spokesperson for the Kentucky Democratic Party. “Now, they head into the General Election with a weak, flawed, and vulnerable candidate at the top of the ticket.”
- Rocky Adkins/Stephanie Horne 125,970
- Andy Beshear/Jacqueline Coleman 149,438
- Adam Edelen/Gill Holland 110,159
- Geoff Young/Josh French 8,923
- Matt Bevin/Ralph Alvarado 136,060
- Robert Goforth/Michael Hogan 101,343
- Ike Lawrence/James Anthony Rose 8,447
- William Woods/Justin Miller 14,004