Some in GOP warn against election challenge in Kentucky

BRUCE SCHREINER
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Election 2019 Kentucky Governor

Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin announces his intent to call for a recanvass of the voting results from Tuesday's gubernatorial elections during a press conference at the Governor's Mansion in Frankfort, Ky., Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Some Kentucky Republicans are warning Gov. Matt Bevin against challenging the election results in his reelection bid unless he finds evidence of massive fraud.

U.S. Rep. James Comer, who lost to Bevin by 83 votes in the 2015 GOP gubernatorial primary, is among Republicans suggesting Bevin may need to accept those results rather than initiate a bloody fight that could end up in the GOP-controlled legislature. Bevin trails by more than 5,000 votes to Democrat Andy Beshear, out of more than 1.4 million cast.

The comments could signal that leaders of Bevin's own party don't have the appetite to sustain a lengthy challenge.

Comer said Bevin's request for a recanvass of Tuesday's vote count is understandable. But without proof of massive fraud or irregularities, Comer warned about the signal Bevin would send by formally contesting the election, putting the outcome in the hands of lawmakers.

"If the Republicans in the (state) General Assembly tried to undo an election, that's kind of what we've been criticizing the Democrats in Washington of trying to do with this baseless impeachment inquiry," Comer said.

GOP state Rep. Jason Nemes agreed the recanvass is appropriate but said an election contest isn't appropriate without proof of enough fraud to reverse the outcome.

"You have to show, in order to overturn an election, that you have the goods," he said Thursday on WHAS-AM. "And it doesn't look like we have them."

Kentucky's Republican establishment is watching Bevin's post-election strategy closely. The businessman ran as a political outsider, losing to now-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the 2014 Senate primary and winning the governorship a year later. Bevin is an ally of President Donald Trump, who made an election-eve appearance in Kentucky. But the governor's relationships with members of his own party in Kentucky have been contentious at times.

A leading GOP strategist in Kentucky said several prominent Kentucky Republicans don't want Bevin to drag out the election outcome. Instead, they want to celebrate the party's down-ballot wins and move on to 2020. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes has scheduled a recanvass for Nov. 14 to verify the vote count.

Grimes, a Democrat, has overseen 20-plus recanvasses as secretary of state, her office said. The results never flipped a race's outcome.

Bevin has 30 days to formally contest the outcome once it's certified by the State Board of Elections. The board is scheduled to meet Nov. 21. Kentucky's last contested governor's race was in 1899.

The Associated Press has not declared a winner in Tuesday's race, in keeping with its policy not to call races close enough to go to a recount. Although Kentucky's recount law doesn't apply to a governor's election, the AP is applying that same standard here. Bevin's recourse following the recanvass would be to formally contest the election.

Bevin lagged well behind vote totals for other GOP statewide candidates. Republican candidates swept races for attorney general, secretary of state, auditor, treasurer and agriculture commissioner.

The governor's race turned into a "personality contest," Comer said, adding: "In Kentucky, it's always been my experience that people won't vote for you if they don't like you."

The other outcomes showed Kentucky remains ruby red, he said.

Meanwhile, Republican leaders of both legislative chambers acknowledged lawmakers could be asked to decide the race.

"If he (Bevin) chooses to file a formal election contest, the House Majority Caucus will handle the matter in a legal, ethical, and appropriate manner" in accordance with the Kentucky Constitution, statutes and rules of the House, House Speaker David Osborne said.

Senate President Robert Stivers said that both the recanvass and an application to contest the election would "have a very high bar to succeed." If an election challenge were to reach the legislature, the Senate would "fulfill its requirements with the upmost objectivity and impartiality," he said.

Bevin said Wednesday that his team is gathering evidence of "irregularities" in the voting. He claimed thousands of absentee ballots may have been illegally counted. Bevin also suggested that people may have been improperly turned away from polls. He offered no specifics.

He said his team is gathering affidavits, but any information turned up won't be "followed through on" until after the recanvass — an indication he could seek further review of the election results.

Beshear, the state's attorney general, said he's confident in the election outcome and has begun forming his transition team in preparing to become governor in December.

On Election Day, his office received 82 calls on an election fraud hotline — down significantly from general elections in 2016 and 2018.