- The Washington Times
Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Democrats were jubilant Wednesday over flipping the Kentucky governor’s mansion, but declared Gov.-elect Andy Beshear’s victory may have been neither an upset nor a foreshadowing.

Experts noted that for nearly four decades, the governor has been primarily a Democrat, with a Republican in office for only eight years. No Republican has ever won reelection. While Mr. Beshear appears to have benefited from a Libertarian candidate siphoning off 2% of the vote in an election decided by fewer than 5,000 votes, GOP Gov. Matt Bevin’s failed reelection bid may have been less close without a boost from President Trump on Monday.

The Kentucky race was ranked as a toss-up by virtually all pollsters, and Mr. Bevin started his campaign with an approval rate hovering around 30%. Republicans took solace in his coming close to winning and the GOP taking virtually all the other statewide races, in many cases easily. That included a convincing victory for Republican Attorney General-elect Daniel Cameron, who will become the first black person ever to hold that seat in Kentucky.

One element of Mr. Bevin’s defeat that likely will be dissected by both parties is his failure to capture much support in the suburbs around Louisville and the adjacent Kentucky-Ohio border. Mr. Bevin took those counties when he won in 2015, but Mr. Beshear beat him there Tuesday night.

The returns had the Kentucky map looking like a microcosm of the national one, with deep blue dots in Louisville and Lexington, a handful of lighter blue counties mostly clustered nearby, and then an ocean of rural pink and red.

“Some of the structural challenges facing the parties seem to be reinforced by the results — rural voters for Democrats and urban and (probably more significantly) suburban voters for Republicans,” said Scott Lasley, a political science professor at Western Kentucky University.

Despite Mr. Bevin’s apparent defeat — he has not conceded and Wednesday afternoon his campaign requested a “re-canvass” — Mr. Trump’s chances in Kentucky do not appear seriously imperiled next year. Mr. Trump took Kentucky in 2016 with more than 60% of the vote, and his 30-point victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton. This exceeded the 22.7 point margin Republican Mitt Romney had over Barack Obama in the 2012 race. But Mr. Trump’s popularity there wasn’t enough to give Mr. Bevin a win.

Elsewhere, the Republicans lost control of the Virginia legislature but cruised to victory in a Mississippi race Democrats again thought they had a genuine chance to win. Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves ran much better than polls indicated and beat Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood, a moderate who has won statewide multiple times.

One prize is left in the off-year gubernatorial sweepstakes, with Louisiana Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards looking to win reelection Nov. 16 and stave off Republican businessman Eddie Rispone.

Tuesday’s split decision in Kentucky and Mississippi, coupled with the Democrats’ big night in Virginia, thus offers no clear indication of what may transpire in 2020, experts said.

“I continue to think that the [Kentucky] race was primarily a referendum about the governor,” Mr. Lasley said. “Flipping the governor’s mansion gives the Democratic Party a positive narrative, but it will be fleeting.”

• James Varney can be reached at jvarney@washingtontimes.com.

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