Incumbent Republican Governor Matt Bevin of Kentucky lost his bid for re-election on Tuesday evening. Bevin was defeated by Democrat Attorney General Andy Beshear by less than 6,000 votes.
As of the time of publication the unofficial results with 99 percent of precincts reporting shows:
- Beshear – 49.2 percent (709,611)
- Bevin – 48.8 percent (703,741)
- John Hicks (Libertarian) – 2.0 percent (28,415)
Morning Consult reported in July that Bevin only had an approval rating of 34 percent with a disapproval rating of 53 percent making him the second most unpopular governor in the nation.
The last poll taken of the race by Republican pollsters, The Trafalgar Group, showed Bevin with a five point lead. The Mason-Dixon Poll conducted on October 10-13, 2019 provided an accurate snapshot of the race. They showed a 46 percent tie with seven percent of those polled being undecided. Their previous poll conducted in December showed Beshear leading by eight percent.
Was this race a referendum on President Donald Trump? It’s being spun that way since Trump won Kentucky by 30 points in 2016, but it’s not entirely clear. While Trump campaigned for Bevin on Monday, Tuesday’s results don’t reflect dissatisfaction with the Republican brand across the board as Daniel Cameron, the Republican running for Attorney General, easily defeated Gregory Stumbo, the Democratic candidate.
However, Bevin definitely took a hit among suburban voters which follows the trend seen in the 2018 midterm elections.
The Kentucky Governor’s race is, in essence, a tale of four counties. Jefferson County, the state’s most populous county that includes Louisville, saw Beshear win big, defeating Bevin by 99,272 votes. In 2015, Bevin lost Jefferson County to Jack Conway, the Democratic candidate, by 37,805 votes.
Not only was voter turnout higher in Jefferson County in 2019, but they primarily went to the Democratic challenger. Bevin only gained 13,000 more votes than he had in 2015. In the Attorney General’s race, Cameron out performed Bevin by over 23,000 votes.
In Fayette County, where Lexington is located, Bevin lost to Beshear by 36,482 votes compared to losing by only 10,442 votes in 2015. In the Attorney General’s race, Cameron also outperformed Bevin by approximately 8500 votes.
Bevin also lost Cincinnati’s southern suburbs located in Kentucky. He lost Campbell County by 1,756, a county he won in 2015 by 2416 votes. He also lost Kenton County by 543 votes, a county he won in 2015 by 5,706 votes. In the Attorney General’s race, Cameron won both counties by 4,949 and 9,081 votes respectfully outperforming Bevin again.
In 2018, we generally saw an impact all the way down the ballot, not just at the top of the ballot. So, I’m not convinced that Bevin’s loss is due to some Trump effect, at least not entirely.
That said, I don’t think Trump’s rally necessarily helped him either. I know in Iowa, Trump did not have coattails even though he won the state as other Republicans on the ballot outperformed him.
I think Trump has the ability to draw voters for himself, but I’m not seeing much evidence that he draws voters for anyone else. However, I think Trump has the ability to hurt Republican candidates that he opposes (ask Mark Sanford).
I suspect that Kentucky’s gubernatorial race was mostly decided on local issues such as his combative relationship with the state’s public teachers. Add to that an underwater approval rating and running against the son of his popular predecessor; his upset was in the making.
Also, I don’t doubt for a second that the efforts by Susan B. Anthony List and the Campaign for American Principles (American Principles Project‘s PAC) helped keep this race closer than it would have been otherwise.