LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Andy Beshear rode his record as attorney general and his family name to win the closely watched Democratic primary for Kentucky governor
Tuesday, which sets up what could be a deeply personal contest against Republican incumbent Matt Bevin this fall.
The Associated Press called the race for Beshear at 8:40 p.m. Tuesday with him leading the race with 38% of the vote with about 90% of precincts reporting.
House Minority Rocky Adkins of Sandy Hook came in second by cleaning up in the eastern half of the state. He trailed Beshear with 33% of the vote.
Former State Auditor Adam Edelen, who ran a fiercely progressive campaign by Kentucky standards, was unable to catch fire in the liberal strongholds of Louisville or Lexington, where he came in second to Beshear.
"Tonight we not only won this primary, we did something we're going to do in November – we got more raw votes than Matt Bevin," Beshear told supporters in Louisville.
Beshear, 41, son of former Gov. Steve Beshear, was able to stiff-arm a surge from Edelen, a former chief of staff in his dad's administration, who along with a super PAC unleashed some stinging attacks in the primary's final weeks.
During his victory speech, Beshear noted how Bevin barely received 50% of the vote in the GOP primary. He knocked the governor for name calling and bullying others, saying this race shouldn't be defined by attacks or national partisanship.
"I will tell you what I see: This race is not about what's going on in Washington, D.C.," Beshear said. "It's not about right versus left. Folks, it's about right versus wrong."
Edelen, 44, who received 27% of the vote, said the chance just to run for governor and to talk to people he cared about was a lifetime dream. He indicated he would wholeheartedly support Beshear in the general election.
"Despite our differences, they are still just family differences," Edelen said during his concession speech in Louisville. "And when you compare them to that which separates us from Matt Bevin, we are easily brought back together by that which bonds us – a commitment to building the future of Kentucky."
Adkins, 59, told supporters in Morehead that they ran a competitive contest, and that he will continue to travel the state in support of Beshear.
"I will tell you this: Being an old athlete, you learn how to win and you learn how to win with respect and dignity," he said. "But in defeat you learn how to turn it into something positive. I'll be traveling Kentucky trying my best to help Andy Beshear over these next months to help him win in November."
Beshear had been the presumed front-runner since he entered the race last summer. He had huge name recognition and ran a disciplined campaign that stuck to a script about his record in court defending key Democratic constituencies in court.
Beshear, unlike his opponents, was able to use those legal victories as an indication that he could beat Bevin in the fall.
On the campaign trail, Beshear noted one of his first major acts as attorney general was blocking Bevin's $18 million in cuts to Kentucky's colleges and universities. He also touted how in 2018 he blocked the governor and the GOP-controlled legislature's pension reform package when it was inserted into a sewer bill at the last minute.
Beshear would regularly describe Bevin as a bully who was beneath the office he occupied, and that the state owes it to teachers to keep its pension promise.
The best way to salvage the woefully underfunded retirement system is with more money, he said. Beshear, like his father in 2007, believes expanded gaming such as casino gambling and sports betting is the best answer.
The idea has repeatedly died in the General Assembly, but Beshear believes putting 100% of that revenue toward pensions will persuade state lawmakers to hop on board. He also wants Kentucky to legalize cannabis for medical use, which would be taxed under his plan, to rake in about $50 million annually.
Republicans seem eager to take on Beshear as the Democratic nominee, however.
Chief among their criticisms will be the attorney general hiring Democrat Tim Longmeyer, who was later indicted for bribery, as his deputy attorney general. Other GOP operatives will smear Beshear's victory as a warning to their voters that Democratic cronyism is returning to Frankfort.
"By choosing Andy Beshear as their nominee, Kentucky Democrats have embraced a liberal politician and insider who thinks he’s entitled to the state’s highest office just because of his last name," said Amelia Alcivar, spokeswoman for the Republican Association of Kentucky.
"From supporting Hillary Clinton in 2016, despite her campaign promise to put Kentucky coal workers out of business, to his plans to grow the size of government, to his influence peddling pedigree, Andy Beshear is completely out-of-touch with the people of Kentucky and, if elected, would only take the state backwards. Kentucky voters will reject Andy Beshear and his far-left, big government agenda at the ballot box this November."
Phillip M. Bailey can be reached at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Andy Beshear wins Democratic primary for Kentucky governor, to face incumbent Matt Bevin