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Decision 2019: All eyes on GOP race for governor in Mississippi primary

Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves leads Republican field; Attorney General Jim Hood expected to win Democratic nod

JACKSON, Mississippi (CFP) — Voters in Mississippi head to the polls Tuesday to decide statewide races up for grabs in off-year party primaries.

With incumbent Republican Governor Phil Bryant term limited, a field of three Republicans and eight Democrats are vying to replace him. Also on the ballot are competitive primaries for lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general and state treasurer, as well as state legislative seats.

Polls close at 7 p.m. CT.

The race that has drawn the most attention is the Republican primary for governor, where polls have shown Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves holding a commanding lead, though likely not enough to avoid a runoff against the second-place finisher. The two candidates competing for the other runoff slot are former Supreme Court Justice Bill Waller Jr. and State Rep. Robert Foster from DeSoto County.

On the Democratic side, Attorney General Jim Hood — the only Democrat holding statewide office in the Magnolia State — is expected to win his primary over seven challengers in his quest to become the first Democrat in 20 years to win the state’s top job.

Reeves, 45, has served two terms as lieutenant governor after two terms as state treasurer, an office he first won when he was just 29 years old.

Waller, 67, served 21 years on the state’s high court — an elected but non-partisan position — before resigning to run for governor. He is trying to follow in the footsteps of his late father, Bill Waller Sr., who served as governor as a Democrat from 1972 to 1976.

Foster, 36, was elected to the House in 2015. During the campaign, he drew national media attention after refusing to let a female reporter for the website Mississippi Today accompany him on the campaign trail because of a rule he has of not being alone with any woman other than his wife.

Foster defended the practice, followed by the late evangelist Billy Graham and Vice President Mike Pence, and used the controversy to raise money after he was criticized for it in national media outlets.

Hood, 57, has been attorney general since 2004. He has parted with his fellow Democrats by taking more conservative positions on criminal justice and legal abortion, which he opposes. He has also made expanding Medicaid in Mississippi — long blocked by Republicans in Jackson — a centerpiece of his campaign.

If no one wins a majority in Tuesday’s first round of voting, a runoff will be held in three weeks on August 27.

Of the eight elected statewide executive posts, five are open in 2019. Tate and Hood’s campaigns for governor opened up their positions as lieutenant governor and attorney general; Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann gave up his post to run for lieutenant governor; and State Treasurer Lynn Fitch left hers to run for attorney general.

Republicans have competitive primaries for lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, and state treasurer. Democrats’ only competitive primary is for secretary of state.

Among the lower-tier races, the one that has gotten the most attention is the Republican race for attorney general, pitting Fitch against State Rep. Mark Baker from Brandon and Andy Taggart, a former Madison County supervisor who has served as an advisor to several Republican governors.

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Matt Bevin, Andy Beshear pull no punches at Fancy Farm political picnic

Candidates for Kentucky governor address crowd of partisans amid dueling chants of “Four More Years” and “Throw Him Out”

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

FANCY FARM, Kentucky (CFP) — Kentucky’s August political ritual, the Fancy Farm picnic, is known for tasty barbecue, hot weather and barbed comments coming from politicians on the stage.

But the nastiness went into overdrive Saturday amid highly contentious governor’s race between Republican Governor Matt Bevin and Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear, with both men — and their supporters — making it abundantly clear just how much they do not like each other.

Bevin speaks at Fancy Farm; Beshear works the picnic crowd

The only moment of unity came when Bevin ended his remarks by asking the crowd to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Democrats obliged — and then went right back to heckling the commonwealth’s controversial chief executive with chants of “Throw Him Out.”

Republicans on the other side of the picnic pavilion responded with “Four More Years” and “Daddy’s Boy” — a reference to the fact that Beshear’s father, Steve, served as governor before Bevin.

Note: Videos of Bevin, Beshear at Fancy Farm follow this story.

Beshear’s campaign — buoyed by teachers, state employees and other groups angered during Bevin’s tenure — turned out more signs and a somewhat larger crowd. Republicans, however, accused Democrats of busing in non-Kentuckians from across the Ohio River in Illinois and Indiana to bolster their ranks.

“Andy Beshear may have won the sign battle today, but you will lose the war in November,” promised State Rep. Richard Heath, a local GOP legislator who warmed up the crowd for Bevin.

Among the Democrats’ signs was a giant cutout of the head of Republican Lieutenant Governor Jenean Hampton, whom Bevin tossed from his ticket and with whom his administration touched off an ugly feud by firing members of her staff.

The Fancy Farm picnic, a fundraiser for St. Jerome Catholic Church, draws thousands of partisans from across Kentucky to the town of 500 on the far western side of the state. The church has hosted the event on the first Saturday in August every year since 1880, and it has become a ritual for ambitious politicians across the commonwealth

As Bevin has throughout the campaign, he sought to use national political issues as a wedge with the conservative Kentucky electorate, beginning his remarks by noting that the picnic raises money for a Catholic church and then displaying a poster from a recent Beshear fundraiser hosted by the owner of the state’s last remaining abortion clinic in Louisville.

“The only collusion that has ever happened in Kentucky is the collusion between this attorney general and the abortion industry,” said Bevin, who criticized Beshear — who supports legal abortion — for refusing to defend in court abortion restrictions passed by the Republican-controlled legislature.

The governor said the issue to be decided by voters in the November election is “which side are you on?”

“This should not be a difficult decision. It’s a function of whether you stand for America and American principles or whether you stand for socialism,” the governor said. “Do you stand with Donald Trump as the president of America, or do you stand with The Squad?,” a reference to four far-left Democratic congresswomen who have drawn Trump’s Twitter ire.

Beshear then followed Bevin to the stage to continue the strategy he has pursued throughout the campaign — to make the election about Bevin and his tenure in Frankfort, rather than Trump or national hot-button issues. He offered no response at all to the governor’s digs on the abortion issue.

Beshshear began by thanking Bevin “for finally showing up” to face him and then adding, “I guess we’ve got to thank the Koch brothers, too, for letting him,” a reference to the conservative mega-donors who have supported the governor.

“I guess they didn’t tell him Fancy Farm wasn’t one of their fancy resorts,” Beshear said.

Beshear called Bevin “reckless and erratic” and said “he never takes responsibility” for his decisions. He called the governor “more show pony than work horse” and said he had “left us a lot of manure.”

“The only thing we’re shoveling out of Frankfort this fall is you,” he said, as Bevin looked on impassively.

Beshear said the race comes down to four “critical” issues — fixing the financial problems in the state’s pension system, supporting public education, creating well-paying jobs and protecting health care. “And on every single one of them, Matt Bevin is wrong,” he said.

The attorney general also didn’t pass up the possibility to remind the crowd about what has become the most controversial moment of Bevin’s tenure as governor, in April 2018, when he claimed “somewhere in Kentucky” a student had been sexually assaulted or “ingested poison” because schools closed when teachers called in sick to protest pension changes at the Capitol.

“Matt Bevin thinks our teachers are ignorant thugs. I think you are amazing and selfless,” Beshear said, adding that if he is elected, teachers “will always be respected, you will never be locked out of your Capitol, and you will always have a seat at the table.”

The fall race in Kentucky will be a test of whether Trump’s popularity in Kentucky, which he won by 30 points in 2016, will be enough to save Bevin, who was ranked as the nation’s most unpopular governor in a recent Morning Consult poll. In Kentucky, 55 percent approve of Trump’s job performance; by contrast, 52 percent of state voters disapprove of Bevin’s performance, including 37 percent of Republicans.

Trump is expected to travel to Kentucky in the fall to campaign with Bevin, who attended the president’s rally last week in Cincinnati, just over the Ohio River.

Kentucky is one of three Southern states electing governors in 2019, along with Mississippi and Louisiana.

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Bevin’s remarks at Fancy Farm:

Beshear’s remarks at Fancy Farm:

Twitter war escalates between Andrew Gillum and Florida mega donor John Morgan

Morgan threatens lawsuit over Gillum’s “slush fund;” Gillum retorts that he doesn’t live on Morgan’s “plantation”

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

ORLANDO (CFP) — Morgan and Morgan may be “for the people,” but for Andrew Gillum, not so much.

Orlando attorney John Morgan

John Morgan, the Orlando lawyer and political mega donor who stars in TV ads for the law firm that bears his family’s name, has stepped up a nasty Twitter war with Gillum, the party’s defeated candidate for Florida governor in 2018, over Gillum’s decision to transfer leftover campaign money into a non-profit that doesn’t have to disclose how it spends the money.

How nasty? Morgan signed off one Sunday tweet with, “Thank God for Florida that @GovRonDeSantis won.”

Gillum fired right back: “I don’t live on your plantation and I don’t take advice from Trump impersonators & DeSantis suck ups.”

The fussing between Morgan and Gillum started back in April when Morgan learned that Gillum’s campaign, which received more than $2 million in financial backing from members of his firm, failed to spend more than $3 million in contributions for a race he lost by less than 33,000 votes, which Morgan called “stunning.”

The latest dust-up started with a story on the website Tallahassee Reports that Gillum planned to transfer $500,000 from those leftover campaign funds to a non-profit that is exempt from campaign disclosure requirements.

“Does anyone believe anything that comes out of this dude’s mouth?” Morgan wrote. “Of course it must be in an account that the public and his donors never see. And when will he transfer another $500K? When he spends this first $500K.”

Morgan went on to say, “We need to explore a lawsuit to recover the monies given in trust to @AndrewGillum and now in a slush fund” — no idle threat from the man who runs one of the nation’s largest law firms.

Gillum replied by noting that Morgan had originally backed another candidate in the Democratic primary and had pressured him to drop out in order to prevent former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham from winning.

“You only care about transactions and distractions,” Gillum said, concluding with his observation about not living on Morgan’s plantation.

Morgan — who said he gave $250,000 to Gillum in the closing days of the campaign after Gillum made a plea for funds he didn’t use — called the plantation comment “race bating,” which he said “is what people with something to hide do.”

“I say what I think but I don’t think like Trump,” he said. “Most people are afraid to speak truth to power, especially to those they supported. Not me. Plus I’m too damn old to care.”

A spokesman for Gillum told the Tampa Bay Times that the money was transferred to the non-profit Florida Forward Action because the group can “directly spend money on voter registration efforts,” which his campaign committee could not, although it is unclear why a campaign committee would be barred from registering voters. The spokesman said Gillum would not be paid a salary from the transferred funds.

Forward Florida Action has launched campaign “to register and engage” 1 million voters before the 2020 election.

In addition to his Twitter feud with Morgan, a federal grand jury has subpoenaed records from Gillum’s gubernatorial campaign; it is unclear if or why the campaign might be under investigation or by whom.

Morgan is a longtime Democratic donor on both the state and federal levels who has been mentioned as a possible candidate for statewide office in Florida. However, in 2017, he announced that he was disillusioned with the party and was registering as an independent.

Morgan said that while he would continue to support individual Democratic candidates, he would no longer financially support party organizations, which he said would be “like pissing money down a rat hole.”

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Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin busts a rhyme in new campaign attack

Bevin mimics rap style to blast Democrat Andy Beshear for getting fundraising help from Tim Kaine

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

LOUISVILLE (CFP) — The querulous contest for Kentucky governor has featured a bumper crop of snide comments and personal inventive between two men who treat each other with ill-concealed contempt. But the race has now descended to a completely new level of weird.

With awkward Republican rap.

In an effort to criticize Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear for accepting fundraising help from Hillary Clinton’s 2016 running mate, Tim Kaine, Republican Governor Matt Bevin posted a video in which he busts into rhyme rap style, albeit without a soundtrack:

“Tim Kaine, are you serious? You think the voters of Kentucky are delirious?”

Bevin continues by noting that “a couple of years past tense, he debated with our man Mike Pence.”

“Well, he might tell you he debated, but he got obliterated, dominated, annihilated, all his weak ideas eviscerated.”

Then, after including an infamous clip in which Clinton bragged about putting coal miners out of business, Bevin says Kaine “clearly hates Kentucky, but Little Andy thinks he’s lucky, so he had him send this letter. Must have thought that it was better than Hillary, or maybe Bernie, or maybe Nancy, or maybe AOC [U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez].”

The governor concludes: “If he thinks these folks will get him over the hump, good for him. I’d rather work with Donald Trump.”

Asked for comment by the Lexington Herald-Leader, Beshear’s campaign manager, Eric Hyers, threw down.

“Once again,” Hyers said, “Matt Bevin has embarrassed both himself and Kentucky.”

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Insight: Outcome of Kentucky governor’s race could be early indicator for Trump 2020

Can Governor Matt Bevin overcome his unpopularity by casting fall contest as conservative vs. liberal?

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

Consider if you will a leader who is unapologetic, unconventional and unleashed. Who is in office not because of, but in spite of, the political class and cares little for its opinions.

A man whose opponents are reduced to sputtering fits of rage at the mere mention of his name. Who plays happily to his base, unperturbed by tepid approval ratings.

That, of course, describes Donald Trump, but it also describes the central player in the South’s hottest governor’s race in 2019 — which could very well be the first canary in the coal mine telling us how Trump himself might fare in 2020.

Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin

Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin is running for re-election after four turbulent years in Frankfort, in which he sparred with his fellow Republicans in the legislature, accused teachers of endangering students by leaving their classrooms to protest changes in their pensions, and lamented that Americans had become “soft” after school districts canceled classes during a subfreezing cold snap.

He has even endured the worst indignity that can befall a Kentucky politician — being booed lustily by the crowd on Derby Day.

In November, Bevin will face Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear, the son of his predecessor, who over the past four years has made it his personal mission to sue Bevin — over pension reform, over higher education cuts and, most recently, over subpoenas issued to teachers who called in sick to protest at the Capitol.

The blood here is bad. Bevin went after Beshear’s mother, Kentucky’s former first lady, removing her from a commission that oversees a state horse park and taking her name off of a state-run visitor’s center.

Beshear likes to tell voters that the bombastic Bevin, who grew up in New Hampshire, just wasn’t raised right, a rather serious insult down South.

A preview of both camps’ general election strategies was full display on the night of May’s primary. Beshear called Bevin a bully and said the election would be about “right versus wrong.” Bevin called Beshear a liberal and said the election would be about right versus left.

The governor is betting that a binary choice between himself and a “liberal” candidate will work to his advantage in Kentucky, just as Trump is painting his re-election as a binary choice between him and the “socialists” he says are running amok in the Democratic Party.

The question will be whether, when it comes time for voters to render a verdict, the pull of that binary choice will be stronger than the incumbents’ personal unpopularity (which is, arguably, how Trump became president in the first place).

In a sense, Bevin was Trump before Trump was Trump. His came on the political scene in 2014 with a kamikaze mission to unseat U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell in a Republican primary with Tea Party support. In 2015, he won the GOP primary for governor by less than 100 votes after his two better-known rivals savaged each other. He won the general election by opposing same-sex marriage and tying his Democratic opponent to Barack Obama.

But as controversies have mounted, his fortunes have fallen. When Morning Consult looked at gubernatorial approval ratings in April, Bevin came in dead last, at just 33 percent and nearly 20 points under water.

Being tagged as America’s most unpopular governor is certainly no badge of honor when running for re-election, although Bevin, characteristically, insists he pays no attention to such things.

The governor’s job approval is about 10 points lower than Trump’s, and, while the president retains strong support among Republicans, Bevin could only manage to win 52 percent in May’s GOP primary, against three little-known opponents.

However, if the strategy of presenting a binary choice against a liberal is going to work anywhere, it should work in Kentucky, home to many rural, white, religious voters who propelled Trump to a whopping 40-point win in 2016.

Abortion is likely to be the key fault line in Bevin’s quest to paint Beshear as too liberal. Bevin opposes legal abortion; Beshear supports it and has refused to defend abortion restrictions passed by the legislature in court.

Bevin has also, not surprisingly, wrapped himself firmly in Trump’s aura. The president is featured prominently in his campaign ads and is expected to travel to the Bluegrass this fall to campaign for him.

A Bevin victory, despite weak poll numbers and ceaseless controversy, would be a boon for the binary choice strategy and a testament to Trump’s enduring popularity among his supporters.

A Bevin defeat could show the limits of trying to overcome marked unpopularity through ideological contrast. While that won’t have implications for 2020 in places such as Kentucky where Trump is popular, it could illustrate the limits of a contrast strategy in battleground states he needs to win.

No matter how Bevin vs. Beshear 2019 turns out, it will be loud, expensive and mean — just the thing to get us ready for Trump vs. Democrats 2020.

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Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear wins Democratic nomination to face Governor Matt Bevin

Bevin barely clears a majority in GOP gubernatorial primary

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

LOUISVILLE (CFP) — Attorney General Andy Beshear narrowly won the Democratic primary for Kentucky governor, setting up a November showdown with Republican Governor Matt Bevin, who turned in a mediocre primary result against weak competition.

Attorney General Andy Beshear

Beshear turned back a challenge in the May 21 primary from State Rep. Rocky Adkins, who led for most of election night after running up huge margins of victory in Eastern Kentucky, where he lives. His lead faded once more returns from Louisville, Lexington and Western Kentucky rolled in.

Former State Auditor Adam Edelen, who led the race in fundraising and touted himself as a fresh face in Kentucky politics, finished third, unable to beat Beshear in the state’s urban centers and winning just two counties.

Beshear took 38 percent to 32 percent for Adkins and 27 percent for Edelen.

The results from the May 21 primary contained potentially ill portents for Bevin as he fights to hang on to his job.

Despite a significant money advantage and the powers of the governorship at his disposal, he took just 52 percent in the GOP primary against three little-known opponents and received 13,000 fewer votes in his primary than did Beshear, who faced much stouter competition — leading to some gloating by Beshear in his victory speech.

“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.

State Rep. Robert Goforth, who has crisscrossed the commonwealth trying to convince his fellow Republicans that Bevin is a sure loser in November, took 39 percent of the vote and beat the governor in 27 of Kentucky’s 120 counties.

In the end, more than 120,000 Republicans voted for someone other than Bevin, who wrapped himself in the mantle of President Donald Trump in his television ads.

Speaking to reporters outside the Governor’s Mansion in Frankfort after the results came in, Bevin said he was not surprised by the result, noting that Goforth had run a substantive campaign.

The governor also said “I think it’s a little concerning for [Beshear] that he couldn’t even hit 40 percent.”

Bevin’s approval ratings have sagged as he sparred with his 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.

His November battle with Beshear will be nothing new. The two have clashed repeatedly in court over the last four years, including the attorney general’s successful lawsuit to scuttle a GOP pension reform plan passed in 2018.

In his victory speech, Beshear — whose father, Steve, was Bevin’s predecessor as governor — went directly after Bevin, saying the general election is not about left versus right but “right versus wrong” and hitting the governor for contention in state politics during his term.

“We were raised better than this. We were raised better than the bullying we see in Frankfort,” he said. “Matt Bevin is going to try to make this election about anything other than his record because it is one of total failure.”

But Bevin told reporters at his news conference that the fall election will come down to a “binary” choice between conservative and liberal candidates.

“What you’re going to have … is a very clear contrast on issues that matter significantly to people in Kentucky,” Bevin said, noting in particular Beshear’s support for legal abortion, which he opposes “You have somebody in Andy Beshear who proudly supported Hillary Clinton. That doesn’t play well in Kentucky.”

The governor said he expects Trump to travel to Kentucky to campaign for him during the general election contest.

In other primary races, Miss America 2000 Heather French Henry, the only Kentucky woman to ever win the title, easily won the Democratic nomination for secretary of state to replaced the term-limited Alison Lundergan Grimes.

Henry polled more than 260,000 votes statewide, more than any other candidate on the primary ballot in either party.

Henry will face Republican Michael Adams, a former general counsel for the Republican Governor’s Association whom Bevin appointed to the State Board of Elections.

In the Republican race for attorney general, Daniel Cameron, an attorney and former University of Louisville football player who served as legal counsel to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, defeated State Senator Wil Schroder, a former prosecutor from suburban Cincinnati.

He will now face Democrat Greg Stumbo, who held the attorney general’s job from 2004 to 2008.

Hanging on to the attorney generalship, which Beshear used with great effect to stymie Bevin, is an important aim for Democrats, who have held the office continuously since 1948.

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Kentucky governor: School cancellations over Arctic cold are a sign Americans are “getting soft”

Matt Bevin says young people are being told they can “curl up in the fetal position” when life gets hard

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

LOUISVILLE (CFP) — Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin is under fire for publicly lamenting the decision of school officials across his state to close amid subzero wind chills, which he said was as a sign that Americans are “getting soft.”

Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin

“C’mon now, I mean, there’s no ice going with it or any snow,” Bevin said during a January 29 interview with Louisville radio station WHAS-AM. “What’s happened to America? We’re getting soft.”

The cold snap, which pushed temperatures down into single digits across Kentucky and wind chills below zero in some places, was accompanied by light snow in parts of the state, including Louisville.

While saying he was “being only slightly facetious” and conceding that it might have been “better to err on the side of being safe,” the governor, who grew up in New Hampshire, went on to express his concern about the message that the school closings were sending.

“It does concern me a little bit that in America, on this and a number of other fronts, we’re sending messages to our young people that if life is hard, you can curl up in the fetal position somewhere in a warm place and just wait ’til it stops being hard,” he said.

“That isn’t reality. It just isn’t.”

Bevin, who faces re-election in November amid sagging approval ratings, faced immediate blowback over the remarks, with legendary NBC weatherman Al Roker calling him a “nitwit” on national television and one of his Democratic challengers, Adam Edelen, calling him “dumb and mean.”

The Kentucky Education Association, which sparred with Bevin last year over his controversial plan to change the pension system for state teachers, tweeted that “we will always support decisions made for the health & safety of Kentucky’s children. Always.”

Doug Stafford, a well-known Republican political consultant and adviser to U.S. Senator Rand Paul, took to Twitter to tell Bevin to “hush.”

“No one wants to hear your old man stories about walking uphill both ways in that (cold) when you were a kid,” Stafford said.

Bevin made his remarks on the afternoon before the cold snap moved into Kentucky, as school districts in Louisville and across the state begin announcing that they would be closed the next day. All eight state universities also closed.

Bevin was elected in 2015, and his first term has been tumultuous, including a statewide teachers strike and sometimes testy relations with Republicans in the legislature. Just days before his Arctic weather musings, he made headlines by dumping Lieutenant Governor Jenean Hampton from his re-election ticket.

Last April, after protests shut down a number of school districts, Bevin drew the ire of teachers when he asserted that with schools closed, children had been sexually assaulted or “physically harmed or ingested poison because they were left alone because a single parent didn’t have any money to take care of them.”

The governor later apologized for the comments, which prompted the Republican-controlled legislature to formally rebuke him.

Bevin is facing a GOP primary challenge from State Rep. Robert Goforth from London.

Three Democrats are also running for their party’s nomination to oppose Bevin — Edelen, Attorney General Andy Beshear, and House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins from Sandy Hook.

All the controversies have taken a toll on Bevin’s approval rating, which stood at just 38 percent in a December Mason-Dixon poll, making him the least popular chief executive among incumbent governors.

No Republican has ever won a second term as governor in Kentucky.

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