Gubernatorial candidates share stage, messages for the final time ahead of Tuesday's election

10/29/2015 08:50 PM

OWENSBORO — After locking horns for months in a grueling campaign to become Kentucky’s next governor, Democrat Jack Conway and Republican Matt Bevin made their final joint appearance as candidates Thursday at the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce’s Red, White and Blue Picnic.

About 300 descended on the lawn of the Daviess County Courthouse to hear candidates for constitutional offices make some of their final pitches ahead of Tuesday’s election, and the gubernatorial candidates’ remarks offered a stark contrast.

Bevin, the first top-of-the-ticket candidate to speak, appealed to the crowd to simply vote and, noting a visit that day to a coal mine in nearby Muhlenberg County, touched on the importance of the state’s coal industry.

He then ticked off his conservative credentials, notably endorsements by the National Rifle Association and Kentucky Right to Life. Those in attendance were challenged by Bevin to “vote your values and not your party.”

“I’m one guy,” Bevin said. “I don’t have a magic wand. I’m not a guy that’s been a politically elected person.”

“My pledge that I will make to you is that I will fight for you like I would fight for my own children, and I will defend this state at every turn from overreach by the federal government and from any other things that would assault us like I defended this nation when I wore her uniform,” he continued.

Conway, leading by 5 percent in a Bluegrass Poll released on Wednesday, offered a more nuanced speech, sticking to familiar territory by highlighting key planks of his gubernatorial platform.

The attorney general gave a broad, five-minute synopsis of his campaign and his accomplishments in office, telling the crowd of his support for workforce development, broadband accessibility, early childhood education, Medicaid expansion and kynect, the state’s insurance exchange developed under the Affordable Care Act.

He never mentioned Bevin by name, but those who have followed the race from start to near-finish could fill in the blanks.

“I put people over politics, and I will always put Kentucky first,” Conway said with his wife, Elizabeth, standing alongside. “… I have been transparent. I have released my tax returns, and I have the right temperament to be the next governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.”

With Daviess County as a backdrop on Thursday, both local party chairmen were bullish on their candidates there and throughout the state.

Russ Wilkey, chairman of the Daviess County Democratic Party, says he’s happy with the response Democrats have received locally, and he pointed to recent polling as evidence that his party’s candidates will fare well once voters hit the polls on Tuesday.

But this year marks the first election he can remember that paid staffers weren’t drumming up turnout in Daviess County.

“There was a decision made that they weren’t going to do that,” Wilkey said. “They put a whole lot more emphasis on getting TV advertising, and we have been trying to go get out signs and just call people, email, Facebook, social media stuff, and that’s pretty much the campaign, but it’s hard without paid staff to really get that ground game going.”

When asked about the lack of paid staff in Daviess County, Conway expressed certainty in his campaign’s get-out-the-vote strategy throughout the state.

“We’ve got a lot of volunteers on the ground throughout Kentucky,” he told Pure Politics. “We’ve got an organization in all 120 counties, and I’m confident we’ll do well here in Daviess County. We’ll have people out knocking on doors this weekend and we’ll be making the phone calls.”

David York, chairman of the Daviess County Republican Party, noted that the local GOP has a field representative aiding their turnout efforts.

Getting voters to the polls will be key for both sides in a low-key race for an open governorship, the first such election since 2003 when 40.2 percent of registered voters cast ballots to elect former Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher by 10 points. The Associated Press and CNHI News reported this week that 14,000 Kentuckians had cast absentee ballots as of Monday in this year’s race.

That’s nearly half of the number of absentee votes within the same time period — 27,000 — when Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear won a second term by more than 20 points. Nearly 29 percent of voters went to the polls that year.

York pinned the expected low turnout on negative campaign ads aired by Conway. Other groups in the race — the Democratic super PAC Kentucky Family Values and the Republican Governors Association — have also flooded the airwaves with attack ads, the latter dumping $2.5 million in the campaign’s final two weeks.

“I think it’s true: The more negative the TV advertising is, the less the turnout,” York told Pure Politics. “I mean, it’s kind of a vicious circle because, you know, then people get disgusted with negative advertising and so they say, ‘Oh to heck with it, I’m not even going to vote.’”

Bevin coupled negative advertising with the attention garnered by next year’s presidential race as potential reasons for the anticipated turnout.

“Jack Conway has nothing but lies,” Bevin told reporters. “Even his own supporters don’t think highly enough about him to say anything positive. … I think people are depressed by and disgusted by and fed up with the negative advertising.”

The GOP nominee has his own attack ad that hit the airwaves on Monday. Bevin defended that spot, saying voters “should know the truth” on where Conway, labelled in the ad as a “career politician” and “a rubber stamp for (President Barack) Obama’s liberal agenda,” stands on issues like the Affordable Care Act, energy, abortion.

Conway, asked about turnout earlier in the day, said he was unsure why turnout is expected to be light. He said during a stop in Muhlenberg County that he is “feeling tremendous energy on the ground.”

Bevin also disputed a report by the AP that he had been late paying his taxes 30 times based on records from local governments.

“That’s actually not true,” Bevin said when asked Thursday.

Democrats have made tax delinquencies central to their onslaught against Bevin, who told the wire service in a report published Sunday that mix-ups with mortgage companies and local governments prompted late payments on personal properties.

“Sometimes you do pay it late and you pay interest on having paid it late. But you pay the taxes,” he said in the AP report. “… Do I actually owe taxes to anyone, anywhere? The answer is no.”

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 or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.


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