Democrat Andy Beshear claimed victory in the Kentucky governor’s race, with a margin of about 5,000 votes over Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, in a state won by President Trump by 30 points in 2016.
Three hours after the polls closed, Bevin had not conceded, and there were reports he might seek a recount.
The election was largely a referendum on Bevin’s unpopular plan to roll back Medicaid expansion, and his attacks on the state’s teachers. But Bevin also tied himself to the president, who held a rally for him in Lexington Monday night along with Kentucky’s two Republican senators, Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul. Trump, addressing the crowd, said, “If you lose, it sends a really bad message. … You can’t let that happen to me.”
Beshear, the state attorney general, rolled up large margins in the suburbs while improving on recent Democratic numbers in parts of coal country.
Bevin is unpopular in the state, with a 53 percent disapproval rating, the second-lowest of any governor but an improvement from polling earlier this year that had him even lower. He had been antagonistic toward teachers, telling an interviewer last year that children left at home were being sexually assaulted and trying drugs while some schools shut down for a protest at the capital. A number of Republicans endorsed Beshear, including one of Bevin’s Republican primary opponents.
One of the dividing lines in the race was health care: Beshear’s father, Steve, was Bevin’s predecessor in the governor’s mansion and expanded Medicaid. Bevin has attempted to undo that expansion, requesting a waiver from the White House to impose work requirements that the younger Beshear opposed. Bevin’s plan was blocked by a federal judge, but an estimated 95,000 people would lose health care if the change went through.
In his election night speech, Beshear said preserving Medicaid expansion, protecting public-employee pensions and investing in public schools would be his priorities.
“If Beshear wins, it will prove that you can’t mess with people’s pensions, call them thugs, and threaten to take away their healthcare in the same year,” wrote Lexington Herald-Leader columnist Linda Blackford in her preview of the race.
While Bevin lost, Republicans won the race for state attorney general for the first time since the 1940s, with Daniel Cameron winning over 57 percent of the vote. Cameron will be the state’s first African-American attorney general.
“Now he is difficult, I have to say, maybe it costs him the election, but it’s OK,” Trump said of Bevin at Monday’s rally. “When he needs something for Kentucky like money, like aid, he wants me to call one of the many manufacturers now that are coming into Kentucky, ‘Could you call the head of some company in Japan, please?’ I say, ‘Matt, do I have to?’ ‘Please, please.’ But isn’t that what you really want in a governor? That’s what you want. He’s such a pain in the ass, but that’s what you want.”
The Trump campaign continued to push for Bevin on Twitter.
“Fantastic being in the Great State of Kentucky last night,” wrote Trump. “Vote for Matt Bevin NOW! @MattBevin One of Best Governors in U.S. He will never let you down!”
“Big numbers to help @MattBevin win four more years as the governor of Kentucky!” Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale tweeted following the rally.
While Bevin tried to nationalize the race, frequently bringing up his support for Trump, Beshear steered clear of impeachment, only telling the New York Times, “I would like to see more of any proceedings happen in the public” when asked about the House inquiry. When asked if he thought Trump was a good man, Beshear said, “I don’t know the president” and said he would work with him if it helped Kentucky.
In his interview with the Times, Bevin predicted an easy night.
“I’d say 6 to 10 percent,” said the governor, predicting his margin of victory, adding, “I think you’re going to be shocked at how uncompetitive this actually is.”
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