Ronnie Ellis

When you sit down at the local lunch counter or chat with neighbors in the backyard, do you hear much talk much about the Nov. 5 general election for governor between incumbent Republican Matt Bevin and Democrat Andy Beshear? I haven't either and that causes me to ask myself: Is it possible Bevin could lose?

Some may wonder why I consider Beshear a long shot. You've heard about or seen polling which says Bevin is the least popular governor in the United States and may have heard or seen some private polling showing Beshear ahead.

But we live in Kentucky and Kentucky has changed from a reliably Democratic state to Republican, regardless of registration numbers. We have one Democratic congressman, both legislative chambers and the governor's office are held by Republicans, and even more revealing, Republicans have won a lot of county judge races in the past few years.

While large portions of the country are either appalled or alarmed or both by President Donald Trump, he enjoys a 14-point net favorable rating in Kentucky. There's little doubt Trump's visit to Richmond last year was crucial to Congressman Andy Barr's come from behind re-election. Trump has already visited the state once this fall, raising money and promoting Bevin, but I'm told he plans two additional visits.

But a lot of Republicans don't like Bevin and will sometimes say so in private. They like most -- not all -- of his policies but they detest how he talks about his opponents, like teachers, and his apparent arrogance. Some of his earliest supporters and tea party Republicans are angry over his treatment of Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton. Republican state Sen. Dan Seum, from Louisville, has publicly endorsed Beshear and I hear rumors another Republican state legislator may.

Democrats almost universally despise Bevin.

Then there are the teachers. Two years ago they came to Frankfort to protest proposed changes in their pension in such numbers some schools had to close. As the Republican majority engaged in last minute legislative legerdemain to pass a watered down pension bill, teachers stood outside the chambers chanting: "Remember in November."

But Republicans lost a net of only two seats in last fall's election and many on both sides of the political divide have concluded teachers are not sufficiently motivated to do much damage this time. Bevin has said as much in radio interviews, claiming the protesting teachers are a minority in their profession anyway.

He might be right on the first, but he's dead wrong on the second. I know a lot of teachers and I've yet to talk to one who supports Bevin's proposals on teachers' pensions. Then there's the story I shared a month ago in this column. I witnessed an exchange on social media where a known Republican dismissed the power of the teachers, pointing to last year's legislative election results. He got a quick response from a teacher I know, a deeply religious Republican.

Her online response was quick, succinct and maybe insightful: "Bevin wasn't on the ballot last year."

I heard a local say the other day that teachers aren't making much noise this year. But, I thought to myself, neither are other voters.

I said above that the relative silence from voters makes me wonder seriously if Beshear could actually defeat Bevin in such a red and conservative state. That's because over many years, covering a lot of elections from school boards to U.S. Senators, nearly every time the electorate was this quiet, they were angry and they planned to take it out on somebody at the polls.

They did and somebody was usually an incumbent or even an entire party.

Bevin ought to win easily. He's an incumbent; he's a Republican running in a very red state; for now at least, we have a good economy. If I had to wager, I'd still pick Bevin to win but I'm beginning to think he's in actual trouble.

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

React to this story:


Recommended for you