Recanvass forthcoming, Bevin declares victory in GOP primary for governor

05/19/2015 11:37 PM

UPDATED: Although the specter of a recanvass hangs over his slim 83-vote victory, Matt Bevin emerged from a landslide thrashing at the hands of Kentucky’s most powerful Republican last year to narrowly clip Agriculture Commissioner James Comer for the GOP gubernatorial nomination.

Bevin took the stage at 10 p.m., an hour later than expected as his supporters gathered at The Galt House and watched him lose a sizable lead to Comer once returns began rolling in from western Kentucky.

Comer has not conceded the race and plans to request a recanvass, but Bevin sounded eager to focus on Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway after a grueling four-way primary that threatens to drive a significant wedge between supporters of Comer and former Louisville Metro Councilman Hal Heiner.

“I don’t want to dampen the buzz here, but I want to take a moment and congratulate Jack Conway and Sannie Overly for winning their nomination,” Bevin said, telling the crowd it was “okay” to applaud some.

“… In all seriousness, I appreciate their willingness to put themselves out there, and we will have good, civil discourse I hope, and we will have good agreements on some things and disagreement, I have a feeling, on a number of things. But we will bring our ideology forward, and we will bring our case to the people of Kentucky, and I look forward to the fact that we will offer up what I believe is the best vision to take Kentucky forward.”

Bevin also appeared to test a general election campaign theme in a call-and-response with the crowd: “We are Kentucky,” a phrase he used to describe himself and his running mate, Jenean Hampton of Bowling Green.

This year’s gubernatorial primary drew about 17.3 percent of registered GOP voters to the polls, the highest turnout since 19.8 percent of Republican voters cast ballots in 2007’s contentious battle between sitting Gov. Ernie Fletcher and former U.S. Rep. Anne Northup.

Bevin, a Louisville investment manager, unofficially carried 49 counties, with his strongest support coming in Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties. Of his 70,479 votes, 10,326 came from those three counties, which he carried collectively with 52.6 percent of the total vote.

He also scored wins in Fayette, Jessamine and Scott counties in central Kentucky and Daviess County in western Kentucky.

The lion’s share of Comer’s support — and his widest margins of victory — came in south-central Kentucky. He tallied 3,147 votes in his native Monroe County, which has a population of nearly 11,000, and held 95 percent support there.

Comer unofficially won 56 counties in all and tied Heiner, who unofficially carried 11 counties, with 49 votes in Bath County. Former Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Will T. Scott unofficially won three counties, including his home of Pike County with about two-thirds of the vote.

Comer, who has been dogged by allegations of abuse by a college girlfriend in recent weeks, said Tuesday he will walk door-to-door to help Bevin win this fall’s gubernatorial election — if his requested recanvass doesn’t change the result.

Democrats, however, don’t seem ready to let voters forget a bitter Republican primary that saw allegations of abuse surface against Comer, who first accused Heiner’s campaign of working with a blogger who pushed the claims.

David Bergstein, spokesman for the Kentucky Democratic Party, said the GOP nominee will face a daunting challenge to unify a “fractured party.”

“Here’s what we know tonight: Republicans will eventually nominate Bevin — who Sen. McConnell’s former top aide said ‘can’t be trust and is essentially running to satisfy his ego’ — or Comer, who won the award for worst TV clip of the primary when he failed to defend his vote supersizing his taxpayer-funded pension,” Bergstein said in a statement. “Stay tuned.”

Josh Holmes, the former McConnell staffer mentioned in Bergstein’s comment, appeared to extend an olive branch to Bevin on social media.

“I’ve never said a bad word about a Republican nominee in my life and that won’t change tonight,” Holmes wrote on Twitter. “Congrats to @MattBevin. I hope he wins.”

Bevin harkened back to former President Ronald Reagan in saying his razor-thin victory represents “morning in Kentucky.”

“My question to you is are you willing to get out of bed? Are you willing to get up? Will you wake up? Will you get out of bed?” he asked the crowd. “Because it does us no good if we stay in bed if it’s morning in Kentucky.”

Hear Bevin’s full speech here:

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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