Kentucky Democrats, after months of debate, chose Andy Beshear on Tuesday as their best chance to defeat Republican incumbent Matt Bevin in the fall.
Beshear will have to bring Democrats together while appealing to independents and moderates. He also will have to prepare for the GOP buzz saw this summer, which will likely feature attacks from as high up as the White House.
Beshear facing Bevin for governor has been the most anticipated — and expected — gubernatorial contest. It’s a race that could deliver one of the more personal and nasty contests in Kentucky’s recent political history.
The two men have been at odds since winning statewide office in 2015, and their rivalry has been at the center of the state’s major issues in every arena from the courtroom to Twitter.
Beshear held off challenges from state Rep. Rocky Adkins and former auditor Adam Edelen during Tuesday’s Democratic primary. Bevin defeated state Rep. Robert Goforth, but limped to victory recording a little more than 50% of the vote.
Name recognition and holding statewide office gives Beshear a foothold most other Democrats wouldn’t enjoy. He ran a disciplined primary that focused almost entirely on Bevin’s policies, leadership style and high unpopularity.
But just as Beshear being the attorney general and having a former governor for a father is an asset, some Democrats warn it could be turned against him in the fall.
“Andy’s got name ID because of his father, but he’s going to have to bear whatever they throw at him from Steve,” said Democratic consultant Jim Cauley, who ran the 2007 gubernatorial campaign for Steve Beshear.
Chief among those vulnerabilities that Bevin will tout, Cauley said, is Beshear hiring disgraced Democrat Tim Longmeyer as his deputy attorney general. Longmeyer, who worked for Beshear’s father, is sitting in federal prison on a 70-month bribery conviction for illegally pressuring state workers for campaign donations.
Observers are also mindful that in 2016, Bevin created a Finance Cabinet’s Office of Inspector General, which was given a sole mission to investigate what he said was evidence of corruption in the Beshear administration.
The agency released two reports since its inception: one concluding that officials in Beshear’s administration widely violated the law by soliciting state employees for campaign contributions for Democratic campaigns; the other charging that former first lady Jane Beshear’s nephew got preferential treatment in winning work from Steve Beshear’s Economic Development Cabinet.
“The Bevin folks seem to be very capable of springing things,” Cauley said. “I’d be stunned if they weren’t sitting on something and waiting for the right time to drop it.”
Critics have questioned the $1 million in contracts awarded by the Bevin administration to the Cincinnati-based law firm, Taft Stettinius & Hollister, to provide legal support to the finance inspector general.
Cauley said Beshear may decide to use that investigation against the governor as further evidence of his volatility.
“Paying a law firm in another state to investigate the former governor’s administration, I can think of a lot of phrases: petty and small,” he added. “It’s just bad politics to take Kentucky tax dollars and to pay it on a firm in (Ohio).”
Republicans have been sharpening knives against Beshear in other ways. Their resentment toward him for blocking their agenda in court is palpable and will spill over on the campaign trail.
“Andy Beshear is going to have a whole lot of explaining to do about how he’s used the attorney general’s office for political gain,” said Amelia Alcivar, a spokeswoman for the Republican Governors Association.
Alcivar said the association plans to emphasize how voters want someone who is going to try to work with Republicans in the legislature on forward-thinking reforms, “and not an obstructionist who brags about suing the chief executive.”
The GOP infrastructure, which includes the Trump White House, will also cast Beshear as a spoiled brat who’s part of a political dynasty that wants to return Kentucky its political past.
“A lot of Kentuckians believe that Andy Beshear is entitled, believes he deserves the job of governor without having really worked for it,” Alcivar said.
Beshear’s record, however, motivates Democratic voters as much as Republicans. And Bevin’s poor showing in the primary coupled with a reputation of stepping on his own message leaves many in the party hopeful.
Cauley said if the 2019 general election is turned into a partisan or national race, it’s an uphill fight. He said Beshear must keep the focus on average Kentuckians and how they’re doing in the economic recovery.
“If it’s about who is going to treat your family better and your wallet better, we got a fighting chance,” Cauley said.
Written by Phillip M. Bailey. Cross-posted from the
Courier-Journal via the Kentucky Press News Service.