Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin appears to have closed gap on Democratic challenger, poll finds
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
Heading into the final week of campaigning in governor’s races in Kentucky and Mississippi, polling shows Democrats within striking distance of winning in states that President Donald Trump won by a mile just three years ago.
In Kentucky, a Mason-Dixon poll released October 16 showed Republican Governor Matt Bevin and Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear both at 46 percent, with a margin of error of plus-or-minus 4 percentage points.
While neither candidate has a lead in the race, the results of the poll were actually good news for Bevin, who trailed Beshear by 8 points in a poll by the same organization back in January.
In Mississippi, where Republican Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves and Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood are competing for an open governor’s seat, Reeves led Hood 46 percent to 43 percent in an October 23 Mason-Dixon poll, within the poll’s margin of error of plus-or-minus 4 percent.
Because the result is within the margin of error, the poll cannot definitely say either candidate is ahead, although the result does point to a close race.
Very little public polling has been done in either of these races, which also makes it difficult to confirm Mason-Dixon’s findings.
The poll in Kentucky found that Bevin has closed the gap with Beshear due to a 10-point increase in his support among Republicans, who appear to be returning to the governor’s camp as the election nears.
Bevin is also drawing support from 22 percent of Democrats in the poll, while Beshear is only getting 15 percent crossover support from Republicans.
The poll also showed that Bevin — who has consistently ranked among the nation’s least popular governors — has improved his job performance rating since January, although it still remains about 3 points underwater.
The poll also found Bevin leading Beshear in Eastern Kentucky, a region he lost to a little-known challenger in the Republican primary, which will be key to winning re-election.
The governor has also tied himself firmly to Trump, who carried Kentucky by 30 points in 2016. The poll showed Trump’s approval rating in Kentucky at 57 percent, with almost two-thirds of state voters opposing his impeachment.
Like Bevin, Reeves is also benefiting from Trump’s popularity in Mississippi, where the poll found his job approval rating at 54 percent and 56 percent opposing impeachment. The president carried the Magnolia State by 28 points in 2016.
Trump will come to Tupleo to campaign for Reeves on the Sunday before the November 5 election and will be at Rupp Arena in Lexington on the Monday before the election to campaign for Bevin.
The governor’s race in Mississippi is a collision between two men who, between them, have won eight statewide races.
For Reeves, 45, the governorship will be a culmination of a climb through state politics that began when he won election as state treasurer in 2003 at the tender age of 29. He has served two terms as treasurer and two as lieutenant governor.
Hood, 57, the only Democrat holding statewide office in Mississippi, has been attorney general since 2004. He has parted ways with national Democrats by taking more conservative positions on criminal justice and legal abortion, which he opposes.
He has also made expanding Medicaid in Mississippi — opposed by Reeves and long blocked by Republicans in Jackson — a centerpiece of his campaign.
Mississippi has not elected a Democrat as governor since 1999.
In Kentucky, the governor’s race is an extension of a bitter feud between Bevin and Beshear that began in 2016, when Beshear assumed the attorney generalship and the governor took over as chief executive from Beshear’s father, former Governor Steve Beshear.
Beshear has sued the governor at least eight times, including a successful effort to scuttle a GOP pension reform plan passed in 2018.
Bevin’s approval ratings have sagged as he has sparred with his lieutenant governor and fellow Republicans in the legislature and criticized public school teachers, who have descended on Frankfort during the past two legislative sessions to protest proposed changes in state pensions.
Beshear highlighted that issue by picking a public school teacher, Jacqueline Coleman, as his running mate for lieutenant governor and featuring aggrieved educators in his campaign ads.