Dems in shock over near landslide loss of Kentucky governorship to Tea Party Republican

Democrats outspent and outpolled Republican novice Matt Bevin and expected their candidate, Attorney General Jack Conway, to keep the Kentucky governorship in Democrat hands, where it had been for all but one term of the last half-century.  Instead, Tea Partier Bevin, who had previously challenged Mitch McConnell for the GOP nomination for senator and lost big, pulled off a near landslide victory with an 85,000-vote margin.

Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Alan Blinder of the New York Times:

In beating his Democratic opponent, Attorney General Jack Conway, by almost nine percentage points, Mr. Bevin, 48, shocked people in his own party, who believed that the climate in Kentucky was ripe for a Republican but feared that Mr. Bevin, a charismatic conservative with a go-it-alone style, was too far out of the mainstream and too inexperienced to win.

But in a year when outsiders like Donald J. Trump and Ben Carson have captured the attention of voters in the Republican presidential race, Mr. Bevin’s tendency to thumb his nose at the political establishment — coupled with President Obama’s deep unpopularity here — helped him upend Kentucky’s political status quo.

Richard Baehr emails:

I was in Kentucky 8 days last month and everyone thought Conway would win. Bevin ran against Mitch McConnell in the GOP Senate primary in 2014. Pretty hard right guy. This will be a boost for Cruz backers – that very conservative candidates can win.

The GOP establishment, in the form of the Republican Governors’ Association, wrote off the race until late in the contest. Kevin Robillard of Politico:

Despite Bevin's unorthodox, underfunded and oft-criticized campaign — as recently as mid-October, national Republicans were not spending money in the contest — his team insisted throughout the race that its candidate's ideological leanings on everything from abortion rights to Obamacare to school choice were more in line with Kentucky voters and would allow them to survive a huge monetary disadvantage. Even with the late help from the RGA, Democrats outspent Republicans in the contest, $8.75 million to $5.5 million. Bevin refused to spend heavily out of his own pocket in the general election and struggled to build a war chest while dealing with Kentucky's low, $1,000 contribution limits.

The rout was pretty complete:

The incumbent governor, Steve Beshear, is a Democrat, as is every other statewide officeholder except outgoing Agriculture Commissioner James Comer. Democrats also control one chamber of the state legislature.

The Democratic gloom spread down-ballot as well. [State Auditor Adam] Edelen, who was widely expected to run for Senate against Paul next year if he won reelection, was defeated by GOP state Rep. Mike Harmon, 52 percent to 48 percent.

Republicans now go from one to four (of six) statewide offices in the Kentucky government.  And Bevin’s running mate is Jenean Hampton, who will become Kentucky’s first African-American to hold statewide office.

Obamacare was a key issue.  Dan McLaughlin writes in RedState:

Kentucky’s outgoing Democratic Governor, Steve Beshear, was a huge Obamacare booster and ran a big state exchange and Medicaid expansion in Kentucky. Just today, Beshear was quoted in the Washington Post touting Obamacare as a political winner:

“You can tell there’s a pent-up demand and a craving for access to health care,” he said in an interview here. “People came out of the woodwork in droves wanting to find about this. … This is a winner for our people, and because it’s a winner for our people, it’s going to be a winner politically.” Beshear has been publicly attacking Bevin for saying he’d roll back his signature initiative. “He understands that this is now a popular issue for Kentuckians and he’s trying to somehow find a way out of it.”

Expressing confidence that Conway will win today, Beshear told me: “In 2016, I predict the Democratic nominee will make this a major issue and will pound the Republicans into the dust with it.”

As was school choice.  McLaughlin:

Americans for Prosperity ran this ad heavily in Democratic Louisville, which has a significant black population, and Josh Kraushaar noted on Twitter that “Internal polling showed it was #2 issue behind jobs” – Jack Conway underperformed past Democratic campaigns in Louisville:

Kentucky is a strong message that full-throated conservatism has far more appeal than the GOP establishment is willing to admit.  That Obamacare and school choice are winning issues, worth going on the offense, and have strong crossover appeal to disaffected urban Democrats.  That outsiders who have never held office are seen by many voters as preferable to veteran pols.  And that making the GOP enthusiastic is a key to victory.

And for the Dems, it is time to be afraid, very afraid.  As Politico reported:

The Democratic Governors Association suggested that Conway was not to blame for the loss, chalking it up to an outsider-friendly environment the group dubbed "Trump-mania."

And Carson-mania, and Cruz-mania, too.

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