FRANKFORT, Ky. — While Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin has run into resistance from Republican lawmakers on pension legislation, and faced a messy dispute with his lieutenant governor, his Democratic challenger has forged alliances with his ex-rivals as the campaign starts taking shape.
Bevin and his Democratic challenger, Andy Beshear, have previewed themes likely to play out in their fall campaign in a red state race that could offer clues about the mood of the electorate heading into next year’s presidential election.
Since the state’s May 21 primary, both sides have focused on shoring up support within their own party. For now, it looks like Democrats are faring better than Republicans.
In a show of party unity, Beshear’s campaign said Thursday that the nominee will campaign with his primary rivals — state Rep. Rocky Adkins and former state auditor Adam Edelen.
Adkins, the top-ranking House Democrat, will accompany Beshear on a campaign swing through eastern Kentucky — Adkins’ home turf and a region he dominated in the primary. Edelen will campaign with Beshear in his native Meade County.
It’s a focus on rural regions that Adkins hopes will become a mainstay of Beshear’s campaign.
“I think this race will be won or lost in rural parts of Kentucky,” Adkins said in an interview Thursday. “And I think that’s where Andy Beshear needs to spend a tremendous amount of time to make sure he’s able to be successful in November.”
On the Republican side, the runner-up in the gubernatorial primary — state Rep. Robert Goforth — said Thursday he hasn’t heard from Bevin since primary election night.
Goforth said he’s neither surprised nor disappointed by the lack of communication.
Asked if he’d like to campaign with Bevin, Goforth replied: “I’m supporting the Republican Party in the November election.” Pressed on whether he’ll vote for Bevin, he said: “Well he’s a Republican, isn’t he? I’m supporting the Republican Party.”
In looking to solidify his political base, the governor has “a lot of work to do with my supporters,” said Goforth, who got 39% of the GOP vote. Bevin received 52% of the vote, and the rest went to two other candidates.
“There’s a lot of people in Kentucky that are highly dissatisfied with how he has handled multiple things since he’s been governor,” Goforth said. “I hope that he works hard to restore that confidence and the GOP prevails in November.”
In a nod toward Bevin, Goforth said the state has made considerable gains since the GOP consolidated its control of the legislature, and it would “be a whole lot easier to work with a Republican governor to continue to make those strides than someone else.”
Bevin’s first order of business is an election-year test on the treacherous pension issue.
For weeks, Bevin has found himself in a stalemate with fellow GOP lawmakers as he tries to persuade them to back a pension-relief proposal he’d like to take up in a special legislative session.
House leaders said Thursday that changes Bevin made to his proposal still aren’t enough to win over enough votes despite big Republican majorities in both the House and Senate.
Meanwhile, Bevin has found himself entangled in a spat with Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton that could jeopardize some support from tea party advocates. Hampton sent a recent tweet asking for prayers in her fight against “dark forces” following the dismissal of her deputy chief of staff by Bevin’s administration.
Hampton has said she intends to have her ousted aide continue working.
Bevin says he wasn’t involved in the assistant’s dismissal.
Bevin dropped Hampton from his ticket in January as he launched his reelection campaign.
Hampton has strong support among tea party activists, and some have come to her defense. Tea party loyalists were among his most ardent supporters when Bevin unsuccessfully challenged Republican Mitch McConnell in the state’s U.S. Senate primary in 2014.
“There are a whole lot of tea party people who got out and worked for Matt Bevin’s campaigns in 2014 and 2015 who will not do that this year,” Scott Hofstra, a spokesman for the United Kentucky Tea Party, told the Courier Journal recently. “And some are telling me that, while they won’t vote for Andy Beshear, they won’t vote for Matt Bevin either.”
Meanwhile, Bevin and Beshear have started taking aim at each other with themes meant to appeal to their political bases.
Bevin touted his opposition to abortion and his support of President Donald Trump, who remains popular in Kentucky. He portrayed Beshear as part of the “backward crowd” of Democrats wanting to regain power.
“If you want to go back to the bad old days, you’re going to have that choice,” Bevin said. “Do you want pro-abortion? Do you want pro-Hillary Clinton? Do you want people that proudly supported that mind set? People who are actively working against the president.”
Beshear, the state’s attorney general, casts Bevin as a threat to public education and the state’s Medicaid expansion that provided health insurance for more than 400,000 people. He criticizes Bevin for lashing out at teachers who used sick days to rally at Kentucky’s Capitol, forcing some schools to close.
“It’s not about Democrat vs. Republican,” Beshear said recently. “It’s not about Washington, D.C., and what’s going on there. And it’s not about right vs. left. It is about right vs. wrong.”