Kentucky's gubernatorial race finally over as Bevin concedes

Gov. Matt Bevin ended his call for a recanvass as it became clear the result wouldn't change. His rival, Andy Beshear, now enters divided government. 

Timothy D. Easley/AP
Republican Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin conceded the gubernatorial race to Democrat Andy Beshear in Frankfort, Ky., Nov. 14, 2019. Just a few thousand votes decided a close race between the two longtime rivals.

Republican Gov. Matt Bevin conceded to Democratic archnemesis Andy Beshear on Thursday, putting an end to Kentucky’s bitterly fought governor’s race and setting the stage for divided government in a GOP stronghold.

Mr. Bevin, an ally of President Donald Trump, made the dramatic announcement outside his statehouse office on the same day election officials across Kentucky double-checked vote totals at the governor’s request. Mr. Bevin, trailing by several thousand votes, acknowledged the recanvass wouldn’t change the outcome.

“We’re going to have a change in the governorship based on the vote of the people,” Mr. Bevin said at the news conference.

Promising Kentuckians that “we won’t let you down,” Mr. Beshear said later in the day that he’s ready to help build the “next chapter” of Kentucky’s future.

Looking ahead to dealing with a GOP-led legislature, the governor-elect urged policymakers to find common ground and to “civilly disagree” when they can’t.

“If we can work together on the areas that we agree on and we can cut down on the rhetoric in the areas that we don’t, there is a significant amount that we can get done,” he said. “I believe that the areas that are so important for Kentucky, for instance the health and the education of our people, aren’t partisan at all.”

It was a subdued scene as members of Mr. Bevin’s administration watched the pugnacious governor graciously wish Mr. Beshear – the state’s attorney general – well in his new role.

His concession capped a nearly four-year rivalry that dominated Kentucky politics. Mr. Beshear, wielding his authority as the state’s top lawyer, challenged a series of Mr. Bevin’s executive actions during their terms. Their feud spread to the campaign trail and a series of bare-knuckled debates this year.

“I truly want the best for Andy Beshear as he moves forward. I genuinely want him to be successful, I genuinely want this state to be successful,” Mr. Bevin said.

Mr. Beshear thanked Bevin for promising a smooth transition.

Last week’s election results showed Mr. Bevin trailing Mr. Beshear by more than 5,000 votes out of more than 1.4 million cast, for a lead of less than 0.4 percentage points. Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes said in a statement that Thursday’s recanvass of vote counts left the final margin at 5,136 votes. The State Board of Elections is scheduled to meet Nov. 21 to certify the vote totals.

Calling for unity after the divisive campaign, Mr. Beshear said Kentuckians share more in common – regardless of party affiliation – than “any national divisions can ever pull us apart.” He appeared at the press conference with his running mate, Lt. Gov.-elect Jacqueline Coleman.

“Whether you voted for us or not, we are here to serve you,” Mr. Beshear said at a press conference at the Kentucky Education Association headquarters. “We’ll work every single day to earn your faith, to earn your trust.”

Mr. Bevin vowed not to publicly undermine or second-guess Mr. Beshear’s actions once his rival becomes governor.

“I am sure there will be things I’m excited by and have complete agreement with, and there will be things that I will probably be on the other side of the equation with, and this is the way things are,” Mr. Bevin said.

In the days after the Nov. 5 election, Mr. Bevin had steadfastly refused to concede while hinting, without offering evidence, that there had been “irregularities” in the voting.

Mr. Bevin, however, faced a growing chorus of state Republicans urging him to accept the results of the recanvass unless he could point to evidence of substantial voter fraud.

Mr. Beshear said Thursday that the election was “fair and clean.”

Mr. Beshear, the son of a former two-term Kentucky governor, had already declared victory and has been preparing to become governor in December.

The Kentucky contest was watched closely for early signs of how the impeachment furor in Washington might affect Mr. Trump and other Republicans heading into the 2020 election. Mr. Bevin railed against the impeachment inquiry and illegal immigration in trying to nationalize the race, while Mr. Beshear kept his focus on state issues such as education, health care, and pensions.

Mr. Beshear’s upset win gives Democrats a victory in a state that had been trending heavily Republican in recent years.

Mr. Beshear followed a disciplined campaign style focused on what he termed “kitchen table” issues while capitalizing on Mr. Bevin’s penchant for making enemies of teachers and other groups. The new governor-elect avoided talking about Mr. Trump, impeachment, or other polarizing national issues that risked energizing his opponent’s conservative base.

Mr. Trump loomed large in the race as Mr. Bevin stressed his alliance with the Republican president in TV ads, tweets, and speeches. Mr. Trump carried Kentucky by a landslide in winning the presidency in 2016 and remains popular in the state. The president took center stage in the campaign with his election-eve rally in Lexington, the state’s second-largest city, to energize his supporters to head to the polls for his fellow Republican.

But the combative Mr. Bevin was unable to overcome a series of self-inflicted wounds, highlighted by a running feud with teachers who opposed his efforts to revamp the state’s woefully underfunded public pension systems. Mr. Beshear effectively exploited the feud, branding Mr. Bevin as a bully.

This story was reported by The Associated Press.

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