Morning Digest: Republican Matt Bevin wins Kentucky governorship

Matt Bevin and Kim Davis

Kentucky Governor-elect Matt Bevin (R), flanked by Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis and her husband, Joe Davis

Leading Off:
Election Night 2015: Despite running the worst campaign imaginable, Republican businessman Matt Bevin has recaptured the Kentucky governor’s mansion for the GOP, defeating Democratic state Attorney General Jack Conway. With the entire state reporting, Bevin crushed Conway by a 53-44 margin, while independent Drew Curtis took less than 4 percent. Conway’s performance was the worst by a Kentucky Democrat since 1863, and Bevin’s victory will make him just the second Republican governor the state’s had since 1971.

But given the sharp rightward trend in the Bluegrass State in recent years, Republicans always had an excellent chance to pick up this seat, particularly because popular Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear was forced out by term limits. Bevin, however, did everything he could to piss away his chances. A

fundraiser with a thin skin, even the Republican Governors Association temporarily abandoned him an effort to whip him into shape with some “tough love.” Perhaps it worked, or perhaps Kentucky’s long march toward the GOP was just too much for Conway to overcome—and enough to help carry Bevin over the top.

Detractors also criticized Conway for running a weak campaign, and he’s often been viewed as too-slick candidate who doesn’t connect well with voters. But his failings were never as obvious as those of Bevin, who excelled at pissing off members of his own party in dramatic fashion. Still, the final results were nevertheless at least somewhat surprising, since not a single recent poll had found Bevin with the lead. Was this yet another polling fail, or did Bevin simply surge too late for surveys (the last of which was conducted a week ago) to detect? It’s something we’ll have to ponder.

Most distressingly, Bevin’s win puts Kentucky’s lauded Medicaid expansion program (known as Kynect) in grave jeopardy, since Beshear established it by executive order. If Bevin is truly willing to roll back the Medicaid coverage of hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians, the human cost will be exceptional, and we’ll see a vision of the GOP’s heartless dystopia more starkly than ever before.

In a small consolation for Kentucky Democrats, they appeared to narrowly hold on in a couple of other statewide offices: attorney general (won by Andy Beshear, son of the outgoing governor) and secretary of state (retained by Alison Lundergan Grimes, who lost last year’s Senate race badly). However, Auditor Adam Edelen, who’d been talked up as a possible challenger to GOP Sen. Rand Paul next year, lost his bid for re-election. And whatever worries Republicans had about Paul jeopardizing his Senate seat with his desultory presidential campaign now seem pretty moot.

In Virginia, the other marquee state with elections on Tuesday night, the news was poor for Democrats as well. They failed to retake the state Senate, where they needed a net gain of just one seat, and they made barely a dent in the state House. Once again, weak off-year election turnout proved devastating to the party and remains the Democrats’ number one electoral problem.

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