Donald Trump Jr. touts Bevin to a mostly-empty arena in Kentucky coal country

Donald Trump Jr. spoke to a mostly-empty arena in Pikeville Thursday afternoon, hoping to muster support within a historically Democratic county for the reelection of Republican Gov. Matt Bevin.

Like much of Eastern Kentucky, Pike County has long been a Democratic stronghold, but swung to the right during the last presidential election in a landslide victory for President Donald Trump.

Bevin won Pike County four years ago with 54.8% of the vote, but he narrowly lost Pike County and many other Eastern Kentucky counties to a lesser-known opponent during the 2019 Republican primary. He received fewer votes in Floyd, Johnson and Pike counties than Democrat Rocky Adkins, the most popular candidate within the region. Adkins lost to Attorney General Andy Beshear statewide.

As Bevin ramps up his reelection efforts, Trump Jr.’s visit illustrates his attempt to lean on President Trump’s popularity as he attempts to win over Registered Democrats who voted for Trump.

President Donald Trump praises Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Gov. Matt Bevin and touts supporting their campaign for re-election during AMVETS' 75th Annual National Convention Joint Opening Ceremony in Louisville.

During the rally, Trump Jr. acknowledged this dichotomy to the crowd, saying he understood the cultural implications of the region’s historic alliance with Democrats, but that “this is not your grandfather’s Democratic Party.”

Trump Jr. spoke mostly about the successes of his father as president. He railed against Hillary Clinton and the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election by Robert Mueller, and against the media’s perceived bias against Trump.

In an area ravaged by the continuous decline of coal production, Trump Jr. also touted his father’s attempts to bolster economic growth within the manufacturing and energy sectors. He complimented Bevin for similar efforts within Kentucky.

“Bevin is selling Kentucky and bringing jobs here,” Trump Jr. said.

In Eastern Kentucky, though, unemployment figures have remained well above the statewide and national averages, and the number of coal jobs has declined since Trump took office.

Still, some voters said Trump and Bevin are the candidates most likely to bring much-needed economic growth to the region.

Robert and Sandy Skeens, who live in Floyd County, said they switched parties from Democrat to Republican in order to vote for Trump during the last presidential primary.

Robert Skeens, a coal miner who was laid off from one job during the administration of President Barack Obama, said he believes Bevin is committed to bringing jobs to Eastern Kentucky, and will vote for him in November.

“People were tired of what was going on,” Skeens said, referring to his switching of parties.

Patricia Nelson, a Democrat from Paintsville, said she thinks Trump’s support of Bevin will help give him the upper hand within Eastern Kentucky.

Nelson voted for Trump and Bevin during each of their last elections.

“I vote for the person who is going to do the best job,” Nelson said.

Vice President Mike Pence visited Eastern Kentucky with Gov. Matt Bevin to introduce Operation Coal Country and the Innovative Readiness Training (IRT) program, which provides medical care to rural and underprivileged communities.

Will Wright is a corps member with Report for America, a national service project made possible in Eastern Kentucky with support from the Galloway Family Foundation. Based in Pikeville, Wright joined the Herald-Leader in January 2018 and reports on Eastern Kentucky.