There’s something spooky about writing a Halloween column about our state and national political goblins, some of whom will be on Tuesday’s ballot. And if you are frightened by what you see in Frankfort, you are likely scared out of your wits watching what’s going on in Washington.
The impeachment process is going to continue for a bit, but it’s nearly certain Donald Trump will be impeached by the house, though it’s unlikely a Republican Senate would convict. But there are small cracks forming in the Republican resistance. But Trump’s fate won’t be decided anytime soon while increasingly the outcome of Tuesday’s election for governor seems in doubt. Normally when an incumbent’s numbers are as dismal as Republican Gov. Matt Bevin’s his fate is sealed — but Bevin has proven more than once the usual political rules don’t always apply to him.
By all indications the race is close — the one publicly released poll has Bevin tied with his Democratic challenger Attorney General at 46 percent. Again, based on what I’ve seen over several years, the “late break” traditionally goes “right” in Kentucky elections, which favors Bevin.
Beshear is bright and an accomplished attorney whose dad, Steve Beshear, served at Attorney General, Lt. Governor and Governor. So the younger Beshear should know what he faces, even with an antagonistic Republican legislature. Despite family roots in western Kentucky, the younger Beshear is associated with Jefferson and Fayette counties, has unapologetically taken prochoice positions and is a Democrat at a time when Kentucky has become Republican and even many conservative Democrats don’t identify with their national party.
That’s one reason Bevin features his relationship with Trump in ads and why Trump — who remains enormously popular in Kentucky — is scheduled to campaign for Bevin here on Election Eve. Another, might be that’s he’s genuinely worried about his prospects. It’s unlikely by now that you are unaware of the teacher revolt against Bevin, but some may not realize that Bevin — like Trump — isn’t universally loved in his own party. I doubt many of them will vote for Beshear, but will they hold their noses and vote for Bevin or sit it out?
Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes is guessing a 31 percent turnout based on past experiences in similar election years. Bevin was elected four years ago in a 30 percent election. Think about that: You can become governor by winning only 16 percent of the registered voters. If there are 100 voters in a precinct and only 30 of them vote, you can win it with only 16 votes. And if you can’t deliver 16 votes, you’re probably in the wrong business.
Depending on the Trump effect, all of that could help Beshear. His campaign claims it has a strong get-out-the-vote organization and they should have an organized army of teachers (no sure thing based on last year’s election). Beyond that, a veteran political sage told me this week: “The Beshear people just act more relaxed and the Bevin people act worried.”
I’d be afraid to wager $5 on this governor’s race. But there are a couple of things of which I can assure you with confidence.
If you watched Monday evening’s statewide broadcast of the KET faceoff between Beshear and Bevin, you saw very accurate pictures of their personalities. I covered both men up close for several years. Over and over I have seen or had directed at me those wide, piercing eyes and thrust-out chin of Gov. Bevin. I‘ve also on occasion been frustrated by Beshear’s calm, measured “stick-to-the message” responses to my and others’ questions. I doubt viewers learned anything new on policy — but those who watched were given clear examples of each man’s demeanor and temperament.
One more thing. Renee Shaw of KET is the best moderator of these debates in Kentucky. She asks tough questions, pushing them to answer the actual question — and does it all without the slightest hint of favoritism. She is a pro.
Ronnie Ellis is the former statehouse reporter for CNHI Kentucky and writes a weekly column. Follow him on Twitter @cnhifrankfort.