Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andy Beshear declared victory Tuesday night in his closely watched contest with Kentucky’s Trump-backed Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, whose vicious attacks on teachers, anti-union policies, and aggressive efforts to gut Medicaid helped spark what one commentator described as a “working class revolt” that led to his defeat.
“Beshear won by running up the margins in the suburbs and urban areas, but there aren’t enough of those in Kentucky to get you over the finish line on their own,” HillTV‘s Krystal Ball, who has lived in Kentucky, wrote in her newsletter Tuesday night. “No, it was coal country that came through and gave Beshear the numbers he needed to pull off the upset.”
“I ran on kitchen-table issues, and I will govern focused on those same challenges of good jobs, healthcare for every Kentuckian, protecting and funding our pensions, and always supporting public education.”
—Kentucky Gov.-elect Andy Beshear
“The eastern part of the state is culturally conservative,” wrote Ball, “but also extremely populist, and they were not having it with Bevin’s attacks on workers.”
Bevin, who has thus far refused to concede the race, attempted to gin up conservative voters’ fears by framing the election as a battle against what he called the “hateful class warfare and communist ideology” of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate.
“Kentucky voters… Which side are you on?” Bevin asked in an August video. “Do you support socialism or do you still believe that America is the greatest nation on earth?”
Kentuckians were apparently unpersuaded by Bevin’s hysterical redbaiting, which Beshear overcame with a campaign focused on healthcare, decent-paying jobs, and support for public education. Beshear also benefited from strong get-out-the-vote operations by Working America—the political arm of the AFL-CIO—and the Poor People’s Campaign.
“With all the partisan bickering and nastiness that we are seeing in politics, we have an opportunity to do better right here in Kentucky,” Beshear said following his apparent victory. “I ran on kitchen-table issues, and I will govern focused on those same challenges of good jobs, healthcare for every Kentuckian, protecting and funding our pensions, and always supporting public education.”
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As HuffPost‘s Travis Waldron reported, Beshear’s disciplined focus on core economic issues paid off.
“Turnout was higher than expected across Kentucky, and Beshear crushed Bevin in Louisville and Lexington,” wrote Waldron. “He carried several counties in the eastern Kentucky coalfields that were traditional Democratic strongholds but have trended away from the party in recent years, suggesting that his attempts to focus the race on health care, education and other economic issues had worked in his favor.”
“And Beshear earned a surprising amount of support in some typically deep-red suburban counties where public education has been a key concern and some GOP voters said they supported Beshear instead,” Waldron noted.
Beshear’s apparent victory was widely viewed as a powerful rebuke to President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, both of whom rallied for Bevin just 24 hours earlier in a last-ditch effort to drive turnout for the deeply unpopular Republican governor.
“If you lose, they are going to say Trump suffered the greatest defeat in the history of the world. You can’t let that happen to me!” Trump pleaded during a rally in Lexington Monday night.
With McConnell and Trump both up for reelection in 2020, Ball argued that national Democrats should “learn from this ‘red state’ that unexpectedly turned blue on the back of a working class populist backlash.”
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