The election for governor of Kentucky will be a referendum on Donald Trump
FOR KENTUCKY DEMOCRATS, the feeling is all too familiar. A popular challenger is facing a vulnerable Republican incumbent – just to close the polling gap in the final days of the campaign. This happened when Allison Lundergan Grimes challenged Mitch McConnell for a Senate seat in 2014 and when Amy McGrath challenged Andrew Barr for a House seat with a close eye last year. In both cases the Republican won. That could be repeated in the state’s off-bike governor’s race on November 5. The result will also be seen as a referendum on President Donald Trump’s re-election chances next year.
For a while, the sitting Republican governor, Matt Bevin, looked very passable. Mr Bevin has long been regarded as the nation’s most unpopular governor – although his social conservatism and Tea Party roots should have endeared him to voters in one of the Trumpiest states in America. He is unpopular partly because of his bad mood and the particularly brutal fight with the state teachers. When thousands of teachers, clad in red, turned to the state legislature to lobby for more education funding, after calling in sick, he said, “Kids were hurt – some physically, some mentally sex, some were introduced to drugs for the first time. – because they were left vulnerable and left alone.”
Mr. Bevin’s Democratic opponent, Andy Beshear, appeared to be blessed. He has both the pedigree, as the son of Steve Beshear, the distinguished Democratic governor who preceded Mr. Bevin, and the practical experience, as a state attorney general, to mount a successful gubernatorial campaign. Earlier in the campaign, when public opinion polls were thin, both campaigns acted as if the race was for Mr. Beshear to lose. But the latest high quality public opinion poll, released on October 16, showed the two men neck and neck.
To win, Mr. Beshear must frame the election around the state’s two biggest domestic concerns — education and health care. Kentucky’s pension fund for teachers and public employees is among the poorest in the nation and the teacher shortage is worsening. That has earned Mr. Bevin a lot of criticism. “If you look not only at his words, but at his actions – both are terrible,” said Tyler Murphy, a teacher in Boyle County. “Bevin, bless his heart, cannot pass up the opportunity when a microphone is around to insult a teacher,” said Jeni Bolander, a high school teacher who is a member of Kentucky 120 United, a teacher advocacy group. , as she canvasses for Mr. Beshear in the eastern part of the state. She believes that a few thousand teachers are also “knocking on doors and spreading the good word”. That could be especially effective in poor parts of the state where the local school districts are often the main source of stable employment.
The other domestic concern that Mr. Beshear would like to capitalize on is health care. As governor, his father oversaw the expansion of Medicaid, a key pillar of Obamacare, in the state where it was hailed as a national model. Mr. Bevin has spent more than a year trying to get a waiver that would allow him to impose work requirements on the program, which provides health insurance for the poor, and has threatened to reverse the expansion if he doesn’t get it. yes way He has justified the idea both in terms of cost – as the state pays about 10% of the costs of the extension – and values. When your correspondent asked him if the purpose of the donation was to save the state money, he replied flatly, “No”, and then held up his two index fingers, one of which was more bent than the another, as a result of that. set himself when he was young. “I have scars on my body that we couldn’t sew up so they are as thick as a finger instead of thin as string,” Mr Bevin said. “Every dollar we give to an able-bodied, working-age person with no disabilities and no dependents is a dollar we can’t give… to those who are truly in need in our state”.
Many of the counties in Kentucky that rely heavily on Medicaid — both for health coverage and to keep rural hospitals financially solvent — are also staunchly Republican strongholds. To make progress with them, Mr. Beshear must raise the alarm about the prospect of policy change. It is not clear if he did. At times his initiative lacked boldness. His speaking style can appear stiff and scripted, especially next to Mr Bevin. For all the scratches, the ruler often appears as the more genuine of the two.
Mr. Bevin’s playbook is not only to play defense in the areas of education and health care, but to try hard to nationalize the election. His latest campaign ad is being cast as a referendum on impeachment. He has worked to ensure that abortion, guns and sanctuary cities are on the minds of voters. The development of the state’s economy, which he links to the federal policies of the Trump administration, is another benefit for him. The president is scheduled to lead a campaign rally in Lexington on Nov. 4 — just one day before Kentuckians head to the polls.