Matt Bevin hopes for inroads in E. Ky. as both campaigns say momentum there is on their side

10/18/2015 07:35 PM

MT. STERLING — Shaking hands and chatting with prospective voters as they meandered through Mt. Sterling’s Court Days festival Saturday, Republican gubernatorial candidate Matt Bevin concedes that excitement in this year’s election cycle is lacking.

“But where it exists it’s on our side,” he said in an interview as he took a break near the Montgomery County Cattleman’s Association booth. “Where there’s momentum it’s on our side, and I think that bodes well as we head into these last couple of weeks.”

Facing a sizable monetary disadvantage on the airwaves against Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway and his supportive outside spenders, Bevin said he plans to invest more of his money in the campaign, adding his hope that polls showing a margin-of-error race coaxes groups like the Republican Governors Association back into the state.

With the election nearly two weeks to conclusion, Bevin is looking to make headway with eastern Kentucky voters, targeting an electorate that has typically been favorable to Democrats.

Conway carried most of the state’s eastern counties in his 10-point election to a second term as attorney general in 2011. His campaign, in a statement to Pure Politics, sees a favorable matchup in the region, with Conway also campaigning in eastern Kentucky this weekend.

“Just like in every other region of the state, Jack Conway and Sannie Overly are receiving tremendous support from both Republicans and Democrats in Eastern Kentucky who are excited about our campaign’s message of creating good-paying jobs and investing in early childhood education and proud of Jack’s record fighting back against the President’s overreaching EPA,” Conway campaign spokesman Daniel Kemp said in a statement Saturday evening.

“We are entering the final weeks of the campaign with momentum on our side.”

Kemp added that eastern Kentucky voters “have also learned why Republicans labeled Matt Bevin an ‘East Coast Con Man,’ because Bevin has lied about everything from his positions on critical issues to his failure to pay his taxes — and he’s still breaking Kentucky’s long and bipartisan tradition of disclosure by hiding his tax returns.”

Bevin believes the success of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whom he challenged in the 2014 GOP primary, in eastern Kentucky en route to a sixth term provides reason for optimism. McConnell won some of those counties, namely Democrat-heavy Pike and Floyd, for the first time in his political career.

Since the 2014 primary, the 5th Congressional District, which encompasses all but one of eastern Kentucky’s coal-producing counties, was one of three of the state’s six congressional districts to see a drop in registered Democrats and a rise in Republican registrations. Others in that category are western Kentucky’s 1st and 2nd districts, registration statistics show.

The 5th Congressional District lost 1,587 Democrats and gained 6,283 in the GOP ranks, and Democrats outnumber Republicans by 7,969 registered voters with a 48.5 percent to 47 percent edge, according to registration statistics.

“More than their party, I think they’ve voting for what they believe,” Bevin said. “Who will fight for them? I think they feel like they’ve been lied to by the Democrat Party. I think they feel like they’ve been fed a bill of goods and they’re fed up with it. I think people are truly tired of the same old, same old, and I think that’s part of what we’re seeing.

“I think it’s what you saw in 2014. I think we’ll see it again in this race as well.”

Bevin spent Saturday’s Court Days festival flanked by one of his Republican primary rivals, retired Supreme Court Justice Will T. Scott, as well as state Sen. Ralph Alvarado and freshman state Rep. David Hale.

Scott, who also helped Bevin on the campaign trail on Friday, said Democratic Party leaders in eastern Kentucky are supporting Conway’s campaign, but the Republican nominee has resonated with conservative Democrats in the region.

“Coal and the negativity,” Scott said of the top responses he’s heard along the campaign trail, “and Matt Bevin is staying positive about what he wants for Kentucky and tomorrow. And all of Jack’s people, his strategy people are making him spend his money in negativity, and it’s hurting him. It’s really hurting him.”

Bevin was dealt a pair of blows on Friday, with Roll Call moving its outlook of the gubernatorial race from a pure toss-up to a toss-up tilting in favor of Conway. The Democratic candidate also picked up an endorsement by The Cincinnati Enquirer, which had endorsed Bevin in the May 19 GOP primary.

On the heels of those items, Bevin’s campaign released an internal poll of 500 likely voters by Republican firm Fabrizio, Lee and Associates, showing him trailing Conway by 3 percent with independent candidate Drew Curtis pulling 11 percent support.

The survey also included message-testing questions, such as whether respondents preferred a “Republican candidate who opposes Obama and his policies” or a “Democrat candidates who is a rubber stamp for Obama and his policies.” Fifty-three percent of those polls preferred the former versus 39 percent favoring the latter.

Bevin, predicting that current undecided voters would decide the race, said he hopes the close polling numbers will entice the RGA, which last aired broadcast television ads here Sept. 24 according to Federal Communications Commission filings, back to Kentucky. A spokesman for the group did not return a request for comment.

“I would be grateful if they did,” he said, referencing the RGA and other outside groups. “Whether they do or whether they don’t, we know what our game plan is. We know what our mission is. I’m going to take a positive vision, I’m going to take this to the people of Kentucky.”

Part of that plan includes continuing his trend of supplementing fundraising with his personal wealth.

After largely self-funding his primary campaign to the tune of nearly $2.6 million, almost $1 million of the $1.7 million he raised in his general election account came from his wallet, according to the campaign’s 32-day pre-election report to the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance.

“I’m not bought by anybody,” Bevin said. “I’m not spending all my time trying to raise money. I need money from people. I’m grateful for the money for those who give, but I’m not out strong-arming people. I’m not promising anything to people.”

“Jack Conway’s doing the exact opposite,” Bevin continued. “He raises a lot of money — trust me, it comes with a lot of expectations.”

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.


Subscribe to email updates.

Subscribe and get the latest political intelligence delivered to your inbox.