The Chatter: Sabato's Crystal Ball bumps governor's race to leans GOP, McConnell sows hemp language in spending bill

07/16/2015 06:39 PM

A national political website has moved Kentucky’s gubernatorial election from “toss up” to “leans Republican,” citing conservative federal voting trends as a key factor in boosting GOP nominee Matt Bevin’s prospects in the Nov. 3 election.

In a piece by Managing Editor Kyle Kondik and Associate Editor Geoffrey Skelley, Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball bumped the race’s rating on Thursday.

The two said the Kentucky electorate may be poised to vote in the governor’s race as it does in recent presidential elections. If victorious, Bevin would be the second member of his party to hold the governor’s office since Republican Gov. Louie Nunn’s election in 1967.

They also cited a recent Public Policy Polling that showed Bevin leading Conway 38 percent to 35 percent in a matchup that includes independent candidate Drew Curtis as well as U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s endorsement of Bevin, his foe in last year’s GOP primary.

From the Crystal Ball:

With all this said, Bevin is far from a sure thing. There are questions surrounding his ability to raise money, having mostly self-funded at this point. But there is little reason to think he won’t continue to throw his own cash into the race. Besides money, there are still hard feelings toward Bevin because of his post-primary role as a sore loser in 2014. Bevin also appears to be on the ideological fringe on social issues, and he has a track record for making mistakes, such as appearing at a cockfighting event during the GOP Senate primary. If this weren’t the Obama era, we would be inclined to leave the race as a Toss-up; at this point, we’re certainly not willing to go beyond a “leans” designation.

Bluegrass Democrats will want to keep the race local, but the U.S. Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage ruling created an opening for Bevin to connect Conway to national politics. In late June, Bevin attacked Conway over the attorney general’s decision to not defend Kentucky’s anti-gay marriage law. According to the American Values Atlas, Kentucky is tied with Arkansas and Alabama for the third-highest percentage of white evangelical Protestants in the country (39%), behind only West Virginia and Tennessee. More generally, Bevin will surely try to make Conway and Obama interchangeable names in his campaign ads.

Hemp finds place in appropriations bill

Industrial hemp producers may be able to transport their crops across state lines thanks to an amendment to the Senate’s $148.3 billion agriculture spending bill offered by McConnell.

The bill cleared the Senate Appropriations Committee on a 28-2 vote on Thursday.

“Kentucky’s industrial hemp pilot programs continue to prosper and I want to make sure our legal hemp producers can safely transport their crops between states, including to States that maintain processing facilities, so they can fully capitalize on the commercial potential for this commodity,” McConnell said in a statement.

Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer praised McConnell’s efforts to boost hemp production in the U.S., saying the state’s agricultural sector “continues to be indebted to Senator McConnell for his continued leadership on industrial hemp.”

The GOP majority leader also worked with a pair of Democratic senators — Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Jon Tester of Montana — last month to maintain state-level industrial hemp pilot programs despite the illegality of marijuana’s botanical cousin at the federal level, according to a news release.

“This latest language reemphasizes that industrial hemp from a farm bill research program is an agricultural commodity,” Comer said in a statement. “The ability of Kentucky to research the full potential of industrial hemp through processing, marketing, and sales is vital to understanding the future possibilities for industrial hemp.”

Kentucky is one of 13 states that allow the commercial production of industrial hemp, with seven others operating research-only plots, according to an analysis by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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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