Bevin Wins Big in Kentucky; Election Night Belongs to Incumbents

Nov. 5, 2015 — Republican venture capitalist Matt Bevin, whom the Republican Governors Association abandoned in late summer because of what the organization’s leadership said was a poorly run campaign, came up a big winner Tuesday night in defeating Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway. Bevin’s victory margin was 53-44 percent.

The major institutions from both parties were wrong about the race. The RGA pulling out, only to return with a late $2 million ad buy, and the pollsters providing support for the analysis that Conway had the advantage were proved incorrect by a substantial margin.

About a week before the election both Survey USA and Western Kentucky University found Conway to be holding a 45-40 percent lead, almost the exact opposite of the final result. Vox Populi, which released the poll closest to the election, correctly found Bevin gaining momentum going into Election Day. Their last ballot test projected the candidates tied at 44 percent but the sample seemed to possess a slight Republican skew. The actual results, however, proved the Vox methodology, as it related to turnout model projection, sound.

In winning, Bevin is only the second Republican to become governor since World War II ended. The only other GOP winner was former Rep. Ernie Fletcher (R-KY-6), who held the governor’s mansion for one term after winning the 2003 election.

In other Kentucky statewide races, Democratic state Auditor Adam Edelen, who was being tested as a possible opponent to Sen. Rand Paul (R), fell to Republican Mike Harmon. Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D), who challenged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) in the 2014 election, barely held onto her position with a 51-49 percent win. Democrat Andy Beshear, son of outgoing Gov. Steve Beshear (D), captured the open attorney general’s position with a very slim 2,194-vote margin from more than 950,000 cast ballots.

Kentucky notwithstanding, the night belonged to incumbents. In the Virginia legislature, both the full House and Senate stood for election and not one incumbent from either party was defeated. The chamber division remained constant, with Republicans holding their majorities in both houses: a tight 21-19 margin in the state Senate, and a whopping 66-34 in the House of Delegates.

The evening’s other gubernatorial election, in Mississippi, saw Gov. Phil Bryant (R) record a 66-32 percent re-election win in a race that was never in doubt from the campaign’s early stages. All of the statewide incumbents were re-elected, including Attorney General Jim Hood who is the only remaining Democratic statewide elected official in the Deep South.

Here, too, incumbents ruled the day in the legislative races. In the 52-member Mississippi state Senate, just one incumbent, a Republican, was defeated. Four state representatives, three of whom are Democrats, lost their positions in the 122-member state House.

Good news came for Democrats in the country’s Mid-Atlantic region. In New Jersey, where the 40 legislative districts send two assemblymen apiece to the state capitol in Trenton, four Republican incumbents lost their seats. The results expanded the Democratic majority to 52-28. The state Senate was not up for election in the 2015 political cycle.

Turning to neighboring Pennsylvania, Democrats successfully swept the three state Supreme Court positions and wrestled the panel majority away from Republicans. These results will likely come into play during the post-census redistricting cycle when lawsuits are certain to find their way to the state’s highest court.

With the Kentucky and Mississippi GOP wins, the new nationwide gubernatorial total features 32 Republicans, 17 Democrats, and 1 Independent, the largest Republican advantage in generations.

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