Gov. Bevin Pulls Even in Kentucky

By Jim Ellis

Oct. 18, 2019 — Though the Louisiana governor’s race has received most of the recent national political attention largely because of their just concluded jungle primary election that somewhat surprisingly forced Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) into a run-off, news is now breaking in the Kentucky statewide electoral contest.

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (L) and Attorney General Andy Beshear

Democrats have been outwardly predicting that Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear, the son of former two-term Gov. Steve Beshear (D), would oust Gov. Matt Bevin (R) in the coming election.

They first cited a pair of August polls that projected Beshear to be holding a substantial nine percentage point advantage over the governor (Garin-Hart-Yang Research and Clarity Campaign Labs both found Beshear leading 48-39 percent). Additionally, they point to the Morning Consult gubernatorial surveys that ranked Bevin dead last in job approval among the 50 state chief executives with a 34:53 percent favorable to unfavorable ratio.

Now, however, the race appears to be reversing course less than a month before the Nov. 5 election. Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy just released their latest data (Oct. 10-13; 625 registered Kentucky voters) finding that the two major party candidates have fallen into a tie at 46 percent apiece, meaning Gov. Bevin has captured current momentum.

Both parties will spend heavily to help their respective candidate cross the finish line first, but Bevin has at least two tangential points going for him in the final weeks.

First, independently wealthy, the governor has the ability to self-fund his race, which largely accounts for his $1.58 million to just over $628,000 cash-on-hand advantage as revealed in the final regular pre-election financial disclosure report.

Second, Gov. Bevin can count on a President Trump-headlined rally in the closing days before the election, which could mean a great deal to his campaign in a strong Trump state such as Kentucky. The Mason-Dixon poll underscores Trump’s popularity. The president’s job approval ratio is 57:39 percent in the Bluegrass State and 65 percent oppose the impeachment proceedings.

Gov. Bevin has gained overall support largely from Republicans coming back to the fold. His May primary victory was tepid, as he defeated state Rep. Robert Goforth (R-East Bernstadt) by only a 52-39 percent margin with two minor candidates splitting the remaining vote.

Mason-Dixon, however, now sees the governor scoring a 77 percent support factor among Republicans, up from 67 percent at the end of last year. He loses 15 percent of the GOP base to the Democratic nominee. The Republican support number will have to grow further to elect Bevin again, since the governor cannot count on majority support coming from Independents. He trails within this sector, 38-46 percent.

But, Beshear was not the overwhelming choice within his party electorate during primary time, either. In fact, he was arguably weaker among Democrats that Bevin was among Republicans. In the May Democratic primary, Beshear, the sitting state attorney general, could manage only 38 percent support among members of his own party, just ahead of state House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins (D-Sandy Hook) who recorded 32 percent preference. Former state auditor, Adam Edelen, (D) scored 28 percent support.

According to the M-D poll, Beshear is currently weaker among Democrats than Bevin within his partisan Republican base. The AG registers 72 percent among self-identified Democrats, yet 22 percent say they will vote for Gov. Bevin.

The current Kentucky trend that Mason-Dixon detects is similar to the 2015 pattern. Bevin, then a wealthy businessman who had no electoral experience and who was viewed as a clear underdog against then-Attorney General Jack Conway (D) who, similar to Attorney General Beshear, was characterized as a strong up-and-comer.

In the end, defying the late polling, Bevin scored a comfortable 52-44 percent victory, suggesting that a latent Republican/conservative vote came to the polls hidden from traditional surveys.

It remains to be seen if short-term history will repeat itself in this coming election, but the Mason-Dixon poll certainly provides a foundation from which to make such a prediction.

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