In a Close Governor’s Race, a GOP Incumbent Resorts to Racism

Exactly one year before Kentuckians will decide whether to reelect Mitch McConnell, they face a governor’s election in which the incumbent, Republican Matt Bevin, faces a challenge from Democratic state Attorney General Andy Beshear.

According to Morning Consult, Bevin is the most unpopular governor in the nation. Campbell Robertson explained why.

He has tangled with journalists, union representatives and Democrats, but he has been startlingly harsh on less typical targets — like public school teachers. After thousands of educators walked out last year in protest of budget cuts and proposed changes to teacher pensions, Mr. Bevin accused some who picketed a state senator’s business of having a “thug mentality” and called others “selfish” and “ignorant.” He blamed those involved in the walkouts for hypothetical poisonings and sexual assaults as well as a very real shooting.

Quite the charmer, isn’t he?

The state of Kentucky shares some things in common with its neighbor, West Virginia. The population is more than 80 percent white, and the Republicanization of southern states that followed the passage of civil rights legislation is not quite complete.

The current era of all-or-nothing partisanship is an awkward fit for Kentucky. It would be easy to take the state these days for an unquestioned stronghold for Republicans, given their supermajorities in both houses of the Legislature and the fact that Republicans hold all but one of the state’s seats in Congress.

But the thoroughness of the Republican takeover was recent; registered Democrats still outnumber Republicans in the state and in even some of the strongest pro-Trump counties, the rural county courthouses remain all-Democrat shops. As in many Southern, or at least Southern-adjacent, states, the Democratic label is fine for the county clerk but quickly loses its luster the higher the elected office.

Those are the dynamics that lead to Democratic statewide officeholders like Senator Joe Manchin. Bob Moser described their politics as “business-friendly centrism, with heavy doses of gunfire and Jesus.” From that perspective, Beshear (son of Steve Beshear, Bevin’s predecessor) is a flaming liberal who acknowledges the reality of climate change, and supports Obamacare, marriage equality, a woman’s right to chose, red flag laws, and medical marijuana legalization. It will come as no surprise, however, that his main issue is support for teachers and public education.

In announcing his candidacy for Kentucky governor Monday, Attorney General Andy Beshear said he wants to honor teacher pensions and break away from the current culture of “bullying” in Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration.

With educator Jacqueline Coleman as his running mate, Beshear, a Democrat, is the first candidate of either party to announce a bid for governor in 2019…

“Governors have a moral responsibility to act with decency, to do their best to provide good-paying jobs and to provide justice to all Kentuckians,” Beshear said Monday in Louisville. “… We will move forward, and these days of bullying, name calling, and my-way-or-the-highway will be left in the past.”

At this point, there hasn’t been much polling in this race, but it appears to be close. Bevin might have signaled that he’s worried with the release of this television ad.

The ad features scary-looking photos of brown-skinned prison inmates with facial tattoos while the narrator says that Bevin will “outlaw” sanctuary cities—even though there are none in Kentucky. The narrator goes on to say that Beshear “would allow illegal immigrants to swarm our state,” and ties Bevin to Trump.

If any of that looks and sounds familiar, it is exactly the kind of ad that Ed Gillepie aired as he was losing the Virginia governor’s race in 2017. Bevin is putting all of his chips on Trump and racism as a winning combination, which might play better in Kentucky than it did in Virginia.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.