Kentucky: How Beshear (Probably) Pulled It Off

Well, well. Lots of headlines today about how Andy Beshear’s apparent win over incumbent Matt Bevin in Kentucky has unsettled Republicans a tad. Here are some numbers for you:

Trump’s Monday night rally for Bevin was held in Lexington. Beshear won Lexington/Fayette County easily, 65.5 to 33 percent. Note, though, that Lexington/Fayette was one of the two counties in Kentucky that went for Clinton in 2016, 51.2 to 41.7 percent. (The other Clinton county in 2016 was Louisville/Jefferson; the rest of the state was solid Trump.) Still, that shows an improvement for Democrats.

As of early afternoon Wednesday, Bevin is still refusing to concede and is asking for a re-canvass. With 100 percent of the precincts counted, Beshear is ahead by 5,300 votes. The Associated Press is saying the race is too close to call. Some shenanigans may still be pulled to deny Beshear the win. But let’s look at the results we do have.

A lot is being made of the suburban vote, which went for Beshear. But I notice several rural counties in eastern Kentucky went for Beshear also. Just to pick one at random — Magoffin County, population 13,333. 98.6 percent white. Median income $27,745 for men, $18,354 for women. 36.6 percent of residents are below the poverty line. Magoffin is very much in the old coal mining region of the state; whether there are any active mines remaining there I do not know.

Now, here’s the kicker — in 2016, Magoffin went for Trump by 74.7 percent. Yesterday Magoffin voted for Beshear over Bevin, 53.6 percent to 44.3 percent. This was after Bevin practically wrapped himself in Trump and made Trumpism and impeachment the primary focus of his campaign. Did I mention that last week Mike Pence and Matt Bevin did a big bus tour of eastern Kentucky to shore up support?

Republicans dominated down-ballot races in Kentucky, and today the GOP is pretending that this shows people are still with Donald Trump. But if there was ever a sign that Trump has no real coattails, even in places that look like his base, last night was it.

Democrats and Never Trumpers are already yakking that Andy Beshear’s victory shows us that “swing” voters will go for a “moderate” Democrat, wink nudge. But I’m not sure it’s that simple. I think voters, notably those eastern Kentucky rural voters, for once just voted for the guy who would help them rather than hurt them.

Back when the Affordable Care Act was put in place, the state governor was Andy Beshear’s father, Steve Beshear, also a Democrat. Beshear saw to it that Medicaid was expanded and put a state insurance exchange, called Kynect, into place that was one of the few that worked just fine out of the box. Kynect was very popular. Beshear was governor until his term limits were up in 2015.

Matt Bevin was elected to replace Steve Beshear. One of Bevin’s first acts as governor was to end Kynect to force residents deal with the clunky federal exchange. He attempted to reverse Medicaid expansion but was not entirely successful. His plan was to restrict Medicaid to people who could prove they were working, volunteering, or in school to receive Medicaid, but a judge blocked that plan. Bevin was openly in favor of completely ending Obamacare and replacing it with nothing. See How one U.S. state is leading the charge to dismantle Obamacare from May 2017. The “one state” is Kentucky.

One suspects a lot of those eastern Kentuckians who voted for Andy Beshear hoped he would be like his daddy and not take away their Medicaid. And, indeed, Beshear campaigned hard on protecting Medicaid and supporting access to health care in general.

Altough Bevin’s attempt to throw poor Kentuckians off of their health care plans was mostly unsuccessful, he did manage to ram through anti-union “right to work” laws, which probably didn’t help him in the coal region. He also pissed off the state’s public school teachers by cutting their pensions. I understand the teacher’s union worked hard for Beshear, as did the United Mine Workers and other unions.

Under Bevin, Kentucky adopted some of the strictest anti-abortion laws in the country. Bevin has personally signed ten anti-abortion bills. Beshear supports abortion rights. Bevin attacked Beshear hard on this issue, calling his opponent “abortion Andy.” This is from a couple of days ago:

Beshear was the first Kentucky gubernatorial candidate to earn an endorsement from the prominent abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America, which is running digital ads against Bevin through Tuesday’s election. Of the Democratic candidates for governor in three Southern races this fall, which are all seen as competitive, Beshear is the only one supporting abortion rights.

Anti-abortion opponents are closely watching the Kentucky race for hints about 2020, particularly whether voters will care enough about restricting abortion to cancel out their reservations about an unpopular incumbent — be it Bevin or Trump.

The group is behind a $750,000 campaign in the state to attack Beshear and the Democratic candidate for attorney general. Bevin has released at least four ads since mid-September attacking Beshear on abortion and emphasizing his own anti-abortion credentials.

“Kentuckians overwhelmingly support pro-life protections, and Gov. Bevin has been proud to fight vigorously on behalf of the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable since day 1 of his Administration,” Bevin campaign manager Davis Paine said in a statement.

I liked this bit:

SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser, appearing at a campaign event for Bevin last month, said the contrast between Bevin and Beshear on abortion is a “gift” that should seal the election for the Republican incumbent.

“The only way Andy Beshear can win is if people don’t know what his position is,” she said.

So much for abortion as a sure-fire wedge issue. A lot of poor Kentuckians think they have a right to their own life, thank you, and want to have access to medical care when they need it.

Another wedge issue: Gun control. Bevin is agin’ it, period. Beshear was mostly quiet on the issue except for coming out in support of “red flag” gun laws. But do see Beshear’s “issues” page from his campaign website; along with abortion rights he also favors marriage equality, medicinal marijuana, and pledges to support diversity in hiring and protection of voting rights. These are all issues that would have marked him as a flaming “leftie” once upon a time.

My larger point is that maybe we need to drop the labels. Maybe voters care less about whether some candidate calls himself a “centrist” or a “moderate” and more about whether she or he is actually going to do anything to make life more fair and livable.

More implications for 2020: It’s clear to me that if Trump can’t win in cities and suburbs he will lose the popular vote. Can he still win the Electoral College? The pundits are saying his only hope is to pick up every rural and small-town vote he can get in the “battleground” states. And my advice to Dems is to pay attention to what issues voters in those states care about and prepare to campaign hard on those issues. Don’t do what Hillary Clinton did in 2016 and run the same one-size-fits-all campaign in every state.

And see Greg Sargent, What GOP spin about last night’s losses says about Trump’s weakness. Trump and the GOP apparently believe that Trump’s base is a mighty and invincible thing that will deliver victories for them without their having to appeal to moderate voters. Yesterday’s election results, and not just in Kentucky, says they’re wrong.