Republican Matt Bevin’s loss of the Kentucky governorship to Democratic candidate Andy Beshear excited opponents of the state’s Sen. Mitch McConnell, majority leader in the U.S. Senate, ahead of his own bid for re-election in 2020.
Democrats are hoping Bevin’s defeat is a sign that the unpopularity of President Donald Trump will terminally damage Republican candidates in states such as Kentucky. But it is not clear that Bevin’s loss is an omen for McConnell or that his association with Trump damaged him.
Trump had said at a rally in Kentucky on Monday that Bevin losing would send “a really bad message to the rest of the country” and “you can’t let that happen to me.” Bevin urged Kentucky to vote Republican to show that the state supports Trump.
Bevin was a divisive governor with a combative style who had a number of damaging political brawls during his tenure, including against public school teachers over education cuts. This set the election’s context despite Bevin and Trump’s efforts to broaden it out to national issues.
Jennifer Duffy, a political analyst and senior editor at The Cook Political Report, told Newsweek that Bevin’s defeat “tells us nothing about McConnell’s chances in 2020.”
“Bevin was a very damaged incumbent who really only has himself to blame for his loss,” Duffy said, noting that “really, it wasn’t much of a loss” because he was defeated by around 5,000 votes of over 1.4 million cast in the election.
Duffy compared Bevin to Roy Moore, whose 2017 run for the Senate in Alabama was mired in multiple controversies, not least sexual misconduct allegations, which he denied. Moore, a Republican, lost to the Democratic candidate Doug Jones.
“Trump couldn’t save him either,” Duffy said. The president had gotten behind Moore in the race despite the allegations against him.
While Bevin’s loss to a Democrat dominated the headlines, there was another story from the election that offered a silver lining for the Republican party and McConnell in particular: The GOP swept the other statewide offices on the ballot.
Nathan L. Gonzales, an election analyst for CQ Roll Call, wrote in a column that “Kentucky was not an upset” and that “those who were surprised by Democrat Andy Beshear’s declared victory weren’t paying close enough attention.”
“Trump was an asset, not a liability. Without a last-minute push and visit from President Donald Trump, Bevin would have probably lost by a wider margin,” Gonzales wrote.
“The decision to urge Kentucky voters to see their ballots as sending a message to the nation as a whole was the right strategy for the governor and Republicans.
“It just wasn’t enough to solve Bevin’s problems…Bevin clearly had a unique problem. Republicans won the five other statewide offices, four of them by more than a dozen points.”
Republican candidates scooped the roles of attorney general, agriculture commissioner, auditor, secretary of state, and treasurer in Tuesday’s election.
Josh Holmes, a political strategist at his firm Cavalry and former chief of staff to McConnell, pointed to the Kentucky attorney general race in particular, which was won by Daniel Cameron.
The victory was robust—57.8 percent to 42.2 percent—and made Cameron the state’s first black attorney general.
Moreover, Cameron becomes the first Republican in more than 70 years to hold the position. Beshear, the new Kentucky governor, was the previous attorney general and the last in a run of 15 Democrats elected to the role.
“The only candidate identified with McConnell on the ticket was his former counsel Daniel Cameron,” Holmes tweeted.
“Dems ran ads linking McConnell to Cameron down the stretch. Daniel outpaced Bevin by more than 100k votes and won in a blowout to become the first black AG in KY history.”
Duffy told Newsweek that Democrats and their Senate candidate in Kentucky, Amy McGrath, will use Bevin’s loss to raise campaign money.
“We’ve already seen this as they suggest that the state is changing, that Trump isn’t losing his grasp on the base, and that McConnell is very vulnerable,” Duffy said. “In point of fact, McGrath didn’t need Bevin to lose to raise money. Her third-quarter fundraising is proof of that.”
McGrath pulled in $10.7 million during that quarter, The Hill reported, against McConnell’s $2.3 million. Duffy concluded: “The Senate race will be expensive and gain a lot of national attention, but McConnell is no better or worse off today than he was on Monday.”