Matt Bevin focuses on northern Kentucky with electoral finish line in sight

10/31/2015 10:56 PM

FLORENCE — After a bruising primary against U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell last year, few would have predicted Bevin, in his second political campaign ever, would be where he is today: potentially becoming the second Republican elected governor since former Gov. Louie Nunn won the office in 1967.

Bevin looked to the state’s three northernmost counties to rouse supporters on Saturday, spurring on about 50 volunteers at his Boone County headquarters before they made the door-to-door rounds or continued phone-banking. He made earlier stops in Kenton and Campbell counties ahead of Tuesday’s election.

Bevin thumped his GOP rivals — Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, Louisville businessman Hal Heiner and former Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Will T. Scott — in the three northern Kentucky counties in the May primary, earning 53 percent of the overall vote in the region en route to an 83-vote victory in the nominating contest.

He’s looking for similar success there against Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway and is quick to dismiss Bluegrass Poll numbers that show him trailing Conway by 4 percent in the 4th Congressional District, calling those results “laughable.”

To disprove those figures, however, he’ll have to get supporters to the polls in a region that’s historically trailed the rest of the state in turnout. When 40.2 percent of voters hit the polls in 2003 to elect Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher in the last open gubernatorial election, for example, 35.3 percent of the electorate in Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties cast ballots.

Bevin cited internal polling showing him ahead of Conway by a single point, using that as motivation to his supporters and evidence of his momentum. He said he would not release that survey.

Conway led Bevin in the latest Bluegrass Poll by 5 points, and GOP pollster Vox Populi Polling released a survey Friday showing the race tied at 44 percent apiece, although that poll weighed favorably toward registered Republicans compared to the state’s registration statistics.

Bevin also notes the support he’s received from McConnell, saying the Senate majority leader will help kick-off an end-of-the-campaign fly-around throughout Kentucky on Monday.

“I have had great support from top to bottom,” he told reporters after addressing volunteers, noting endorsements by his GOP primary foes and the state’s Republican congressional delegation. “I’m grateful for that support, and I think we’ll continue to have it down the home stretch.”

Part of Bevin’s appeal to voters includes his status as a political outsider, criticizing his opponent as a career politician.

But Bevin, who has earned support from tea-party conservatives, doesn’t see himself as an outsider within the Republican ranks now that he’s the party’s nominee for governor.

“Whether other people want to perceive me one way or another is their prerogative,” he said. “… The people who ironically seem to be concerned are the people who are fearful. They’re afraid of change. I’m delighted by what’s before us, I really am. I look forward to leading this entire state.”

U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie, who joined Bevin on the campaign trail in his home district on Saturday, said Bevin’s lack of political pedigree and business background are part of the GOP nominee’s appeal for him.

“Matt Bevin’s not a career politician. That’s one of the things I like about him,” Massie, a member of the U.S. House’s Freedom Caucus and one of nine GOP lawmakers to vote for U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster over newly minted House Speaker Paul Ryan on Thursday, told Pure Politics. “He’s got business experience. Kentucky needs investment. We need to sell Kentucky to companies and get them to come into this state. That’s something Matt Bevin has done in his private career.”

“I like him because he’s an outsider,” Massie said, “and I think we need new ideas coming into politics.”

Massie represents one of five Republicans elected to Kentucky’s six congressional districts, and he says that kind of network has helped Bevin on the campaign trail, particularly against an onslaught of attack ads from Conway and the Democratic super PAC Kentucky Family Values.

“Each of these individuals who came here as volunteers to meet Matt Bevin here today are character references for him to combat the negative ads when they go knock on the doors in the next 72 hours or when they make the phone calls in the next 72 hours,” Massie said.

If elected, Bevin will have to deal with members of the state’s media that he has refused to take questions from recently on the campaign trail for at least four years.

He has gone so far as to question their temperament, a criticism Kentucky Democrats and editorial writers have launched in his direction. The matter has been the subject of columns by The Courier-Journal and Lexington Herald-Leader.

“The irony is all the people who are concerned about how unapproachable or unhappy or prickly I’ve been have been exactly that,” Bevin said.

“I’ve made myself available,” he continued. “I will continue to. I think it’s important, but it needs to be done in a healthy, constructive and professional manner, and those members of the press corps who understand that will always have my ear.”

Bevin said he hopes a victory will change the tone of Kentucky politics, alluding to his speech at this year’s Fancy Farm picnic, one of the premiere political events in the state known primarily for sharp-tongued speeches from the stump.

“I’m trying to change the tenor,” he said. “I think we’re worthy of it.”

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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