Ronnie Ellis

It used to be acceptable only for Baptists to make Baptist jokes. Such as: "How can you spot a Baptist: They're the ones who don't recognize or speak to you in a liquor store."

But we had very little patience for the put-downs by members of other denominations, some of whom could seem condescending. One of those more sophisticated churches in my hometown was routinely described by one of its members as "the church of the 10 suggestions." Baptists on the other hand -- at least those I grew up around -- don't take kindly to some from another denomination telling them what to do.

But that's what Gov. Matt Bevin (who some suspect has his own messianic complex) did in one of his infamous Facebook videos this week. Seems his opponent, Democrat Andy Beshear, aired an ad talking about his grandfather and great-grandfather serving as Baptist ministers that also depicted a scene of the Beshear family offering thanks before their meal.

Bevin responded with one of his videos, telling viewers the ad is "downright insulting to the Baptist tradition." He goes on to say it's an effort by Beshear to use his grandfather and great-grandfather to insulate him from his pro-choice position in Kentucky.

Well... the standard Republican playbook in this state is to attack Democratic opponents as liberals, minions of Nancy Pelosi and supporters of abortion "right up until the time of birth." Beshear is simply trying to get out front of those accusations.

He's running against an unusual opponent. I'm not talking about Bevin's style or penchant for insulting people like teachers. I'm talking about Bevin's terrible poll numbers. He ranks last among all 50 governors in the Morning Consult Poll.

The people of Kentucky don't much like Matt Bevin, including a lot of Republicans. But many do like his policy positions on things like abortion and taxes.

But when you're as unpopular as Bevin, about your only chance is to tear the other candidate down. Mitch McConnell has been demonstrating how that's done since 1984, including doing it to Andy's dad, Steve Beshear, in a Senate race.

The younger Beshear no doubt takes hope from Bevin's poor ratings but he needs to keep in mind he's running in deep red Kentucky where social issues count. Back in 2015, when Bevin won the first time, he hitched his cart to the coattails of Kim Davis, the Rowan County Clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. I know Democrats in Kentucky who do not wish to be publicly identified as Democrats "because there are people around here who say you can't be both a Democrat and a Christian."

Folks, that's a verbatim quote from a well-respected Madison County Democrat.

Kentucky is also Trump territory, a state where he enjoys a net approval of 14 points. He makes a difference in elections in states and districts he carried.

A lot of people thought Amy McGrath was going to knock off Andy Barr in the 6th Congressional District election last year (including yours truly for most of the race). I continue to believe she was running ahead in the race until Donald Trump came to Richmond and stumped for Barr. Afterward, it wasn't difficult to detect a change in the air.

There are only three governors' races in the country this year and the other two aren't as competitive as Kentucky. Through his friendship with former Indiana Gov. and now Vice President Mike Pence, Bevin has drawn Trump's attention and approval. The president is expected to visit Kentucky at least once and perhaps twice on Bevin's behalf.

Beshear may beat his head against a wall, asking himself how a man who brags about sexual harassment, is a proven liar and has cheated others in building his own fortune can come to Kentucky and talk to voters about conservative values. But that's what he's up against.

Ronnie Ellis is the former statehouse reporter for CNHI Kentucky and now writes a weekly column for The Register. Follow him on Twitter @cnhifrankfort.

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