For most people, the most glorious time of the year is when most of us celebrate Christmas.
But every four years in Kentucky the stars align to offer us the resplendent, majestic grandeur of a Kentucky April and tantalize us with hints of Derby, all against a backdrop of a primary race for governor. Kentuckians of all political backgrounds and regions are apt to choose a horse in both the Derby and the May 21 primary.
We have an incumbent Republican governor (just rated the least popular governor in the country in a Morning Consult Poll) who can’t help but shoot himself in the foot yet seems to have a better than even chance of winning re-election.
Bevin has three primary opponents, none of which is named James Comer and none of which is likely to win or come as close as Comer’s 83-vote loss four years ago. It’s not uncommon for everyday Republicans to grouse about Bevin and he’s managed to alienate some key Republican state senators as well as a plurality of Republican House members.
One opponent, Rep. Robert Goforth of East Bernstad, even released a couple of ads attacking Bevin. In one, the narrator contends Bevin gave money to a pro-choice candidate; he hits Bevin for hiring an old army buddy and making him the highest paid IT officer in state government in the country. The ad concludes with the narrator saying, “We can’t trust Matt Bevin with the truth.”
Goforth also has a biographical ad which highlights his agricultural background, military service and success as a pharmacist. They’re both pretty good ads and Goforth comes from a Republican region of the state where both rank-and-file and party activists aren’t all that fond of Bevin. But I don’t see Republicans rejecting an incumbent of their own, endangering their hegemony in Frankfort.
In the Democratic primary, incumbent Attorney General Andy Beshear has the name recognition both as a statewide official and as the son of the previous, two-term governor Steve Beshear. The younger Beshear’s name recognition is further boosted by his frequent suits challenging Bevin executive actions and Bevin’s patronizing criticism of Beshear. Republicans I know say they would prefer Beshear as Bevin’s opponent rather than former state Auditor Adam Edelen or House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins.
All three are running ads of their own, with Beshear touting his work as AG in pursuing opioid distributors, fighting for health care and opposing Bevin in multiple court cases challenging the governor’s executive overreach.
Edelen and Adkins, doubtlessly reflecting their lower name recognition, are running more biographical ads laced with some humor. Edelen says he won’t accept PAC donations (which wouldn’t prevent others from forming an unrelated PAC and running ads on his behalf).
Someone — probably the Beshear camp — is circulating an internal poll which shows Beshear ahead of Edelen and Adkins. If those polls are genuine, then time is running out for Edelen or Adkins to make up ground. So attacks on Beshear might not be far away.
Adkins believes he’s the only Democrat who can appeal to conservative voters in the fall — and he might be right. His ad reflects that assumption, showing him playing bluegrass music with friends on a rustic front porch and describing his successful battle with cancer and job loss.
There are people in both parties who believe Adkins can do better in rural Kentucky this fall than either Beshear or Edelen — but they think it would be difficult to win the Democratic primary in which urban Fayette and Jefferson counties dominate.
Ironically perhaps, two Republican friends who want Beshear to win to make it easier for Bevin to win in the fall privately admit they might actually vote for Adkins over Bevin. I suspect they’re pulling my leg — but it’s hard to pick a winner this year.
Ronnie Ellis is the former statehouse reporter for CNHI Kentucky and writes a weekly column. Follow him on Twitter @cnhifrankfort.