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Democrat Amy McGrath will not run for Kentucky governor in 2019

Recent poll shows Republican Governor Matt Bevin vulnerable to Democratic challenge

LEXINGTON, Kentucky (CFP) — Amy McGrath will not seek Kentucky’s governorship in 2019, despite the urging of supporters who wanted the rising Democratic star to jump into the race against Republican Governor Matt Bevin, whose sagging popularity has made him vulnerable.

Amy McGrath

In a December 19 email to supporters, McGrath said she was “humbled by the encouragement” to get into the race but decided not to seek the governorship or any other statewide office next year.

“That doesn’t mean I’ll stop working for the values and beliefs we all care about,” she said. “I deeply wish to help move Kentucky and our country forward and I can assure you that I will continue to speak out on the important issues of the day.”

McGrath, 43, a retired Marine combat pilot, burst on the political scene in 2017 when a video announcing her run for the 6th District U.S. House seat went viral.

She went on to win the Democratic primary and raise $8.6 million for the race, the most by any Southern Democratic House challenger in the 2018 election cycle. In the end, she lost to Republican U.S. Rep. Andy Barr by 9,700 votes.

McGrath’s potential candidacy for governor faced a possible hurdle — Kentucky’s Constitution requires six years of continuous residence to run for governor, and McGrath had lived out of state during her military service before returning to run for Congress.

Had she run, the courts would have likely decided if McGrath’s out-of-state military service disqualified her.

However, that state requirement would not bar her from seeking federal office again — including the U.S. Senate seat held by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is up for re-election in 2020.

Bevin announced in August that he plans to run for re-election in 2019. However, he has yet to file the paperwork needed to begin raising money for the race.

A Mason-Dixon poll taken Dec. 12-15 found Bevin’s approval rating at 38 percent, with 53 percent saying they disapproved of the governor’s performance. A year earlier, his approval was 45 percent in the same poll.

Earlier this month, the Kentucky Supreme Court unanimously struck down a pension reform bill crafted by Bevin and Republicans in the legislature, which sparked angry protests by teachers and state employees when it passed last spring.

Bevin then called lawmakers into special session to push through the pension measure again, only to see GOP leaders adjourn after one day without taking any action, which the governor criticized as “one of the worst financial days to have ever descended down on the Commonwealth.”

The legal fight to overturn the pension law was led by Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear, who is running to unseat Bevin. The Mason-Dixon poll showed Beshear with a 48 percent to 40 percent lead over Bevin in a hypothetical match-up, right at the poll’s margin of error.

Also in the Democratic race is House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins from Sandy Hook. The biggest unknown is whether Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes will run now that her father, Jerry Lundergan, has been indicted on charges of illegally funneling money into her 2014 U.S. Senate campaign.

Grimes, the only Democrat other than Beshear to hold statewide office, has not been implicated in the case. But her father’s trial is scheduled for August, right in the middle of the campaign.

Other Democrats considering the race including former State Auditor Adam Edelen from Lexington and State Rep. Attica Scott from Louisville.

Kentucky is one of five states that elect their governors in off years, along with Mississippi, Louisiana, Virginia, and New Jersey. Among those states, Mississippi and Louisiana are also up in 2019.

While Republicans hold most state and federal offices in Kentucky, and President Donald Trump carried the commonwealth by 30 points in 2016, Democrats have had more success winning the governorship.

Bevin is just the third Republican elected governor in the past 50 years, and no Republican has won re-election since the Constitution was changed in 1992 to allow governors to succeed themselves.

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Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin announces he’s running for re-election

Bevin’s quest for a second term in 2019 comes amid fallout over contentious teachers’ strike

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

LEXINGTON, Kentucky (CFP) — After months of being tight-lipped about his political plans, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin has announced that he will run for re-election in 2019, amid the fallout from a teachers’ strike earlier this year that roiled politics across the Bluegrass State.

His decision sets up a possible battle with Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear, who has used the powers of his office to become a significant thorn in the governor’s side over the last three years.

Governor Matt Bevin

“You bet I’m running,” Bevin told a state GOP gathering in Lexington August 25. “There was not a chance that I was going to walk away and leave the seeds that we’ve put in the ground to be trampled on or intentionally dug up by any kind of people that choose to follow behind.”

Bevin told the assembled Republicans to “buckle up, because the next five years are going to be something to watch.”

Beshear responded to Bevin’s announcement on Twitter, saying, “For the sake of public education, our teachers and public servants, and our basic values of caring and decency, we must win this election! Kentucky deserves much better.”

Bevin, 51, was a businessman with no elected experience when he won the governorship in 2015, becoming just the third Republican to serve in the post in the previous 60 years. No Republican has ever been elected to two terms since Kentucky governors became eligible to seek re-election in 1995.

Beshear has sued the governor at least eight times, including a challenge to a pension reform bill that prompted thousands of public school teachers to converge on the State Capitol in protest earlier this year. A lower court judge blocked the plan on constitutional grounds, a decision which the Bevin administration is now appealing.

Bevin drew the ire of teachers for remarks he made in April after protests shut down a number of school districts: “I guarantee you somewhere in Kentucky today, a child was sexually assaulted that was left at home because there was nobody there to watch them. I guarantee you somewhere today, a child was 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 drew the ire of even his fellow Republicans in the legislature. But his statement will no doubt live on in the governor’s race.

In April, after the battle over public employee pensions, Western Kentucky University’s Big Red Poll found that Bevin’s job approval stood at just 32 percent, with 56 percent disapproving. A majority of poll respondents also said they sided with teachers in their dispute with Bevin, while just 16 percent expressed support for the governor.

Beshear was the first Democrat to announce for governor in 2019. However, several other candidates are eyeing the race, including Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, State House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins and former State Auditor Adam Edelen.

A primary battle between Grimes and Beshear would put against each other the only two Democrats holding statewide office. Grimes made an unsuccessful challenge to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in 2014 — after McConnell first crushed Bevin in a GOP primary.

Beshear is the son of Bevin’s predecessor, former Governor Steve Beshear, who served afrom 2007 to 2015.

Kentucky is one of four states that elect their governors in off years, along with Mississippi, Virginia, and New Jersey. However, state legislators are up for election this fall, and nearly three dozen public school educators have filed to run for legislative seats across the commonwealth.

Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear launches 2019 governor’s race

Democrat is running for top job after three years of legal tussling with Republican Governor Matt Bevin

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPoiltics.com editor

BOWLING GREEN, Kentucky (CFP) — Democratic Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear has launched his campaign to unseat Republican Governor Matt Bevin in 2019. taking a dig at the incumbent with a pledge to “set a standard for transparency and decency” in Frankfort.

Attorney General Andy Beshear greets a supporter July 10 at Western Kentucky University. (CFP/Rich Shumate)

“Instead of leadership, we see name calling and bullying. Instead of working together, our government says it’s my way or the highway,” Beshear said at a July 10 rally at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, the final stop on a two-day campaign kickoff tour. “Kentucky deserves better.”

Beshear is the first candidate to announce a run for governor in 2019, getting a jump on other Democratic candidates who are considering the race, including Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, State House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins and former State Auditor Adam Edelen.

Beshear and Bevin have been at war — in public and in court — since 2016, when Beshear assumed the attorney generalship and the governor took over as chief executive from Beshear’s father, former Governor Steve Beshear, who served as governor from 2007 to 2015.

Beshear has sued the governor at least eight times, including a challenge to a pension reform bill that prompted thousands of public school teachers to converge on the State Capitol in protest earlier this year. A lower court judge blocked the plan on constitutional grounds, a decision which the Bevin administration is now appealing.

The potency of the teachers’ protests as a political issue is reflected in Beshear’s choice for a running mate for lieutenant governor — Jacqueline Coleman, 36, a civics teacher and high school basketball coach from Harrodsburg, who was active in the protest movement.

Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin

Bevin drew the ire of teachers for remarks he made in April after protests shut down a number of school districts: “I guarantee you somewhere in Kentucky today, a child was sexually assaulted that was left at home because there was nobody there to watch them. I guarantee you somewhere today, a child was 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 drew the ire of even his fellow Republicans in the legislature. But Coleman made it clear that Bevin’s comments will live on in the governor’s race.

“Make no mistake — public education is under an all-out assault,” she said. “We have been insulted, disrespected, devalued and even called names by our current governor.”

In April, after the battle over pensions, WKU’s Big Red Poll found that Bevin’s job approval stood at just 32 percent, with 56 percent disapproving. A majority of poll respondents also said they sided with teachers in their dispute with Bevin, while just 16 percent expressed support for the governor.

In an early sign of how personal the governor’s race is likely to get, Bevin greeted news of Beshear’s candidacy with his own pointed tweet: “For those Kentuckians who did not get enough corruption, self-dealing, embezzlement and bribery during the 8 corrupt years of Governor Steve Beshear, his son, Andy, is now offering a chance for 4 more years of the same …” He added the hashtag #BeshearFamilyTradition.

Bevin’s comment stems from the conviction of Beshear’s former chief deputy for accepting bribes from lobbyists when he worked in the administration of Beshear. Neither Beshear has been implicated in the case.

Asked about Bevin’s tweet, Beshear said, “I’m running for governor to restore transparency and decency … I think our current governor’s comments show how much that decency is needed.”

Beshear, 40, is in his first term as attorney general. He and Grimes are the only Democrats holding statewide office in Kentucky and may face each other in the governor’s primary.

Grimes made an unsuccessful challenge to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in 2014 — after McConnell first crushed Bevin in a GOP primary.

The governor has not announced if he will seek re-election in 2019. No Republican has ever won a second term as governor.

Kentucky is one of four states that elect their governors in off years, along with Mississippi, Virginia, and New Jersey. However, state legislators are up this fall, and nearly three dozen public school educators have filed to run for legislative seats across the commonwealth.

Republican Matt Bevin wins Kentucky governor’s race

Bevin’s victory over Attorney General Jack Conway is another takeaway for the GOP in the South

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

kentucky mugLOUISVILLE (CFP) — Just a year after losing a bruising primary battle against U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Louisville businessman and Tea Party favorite Matt Bevin has won the Kentucky governorship, taking away one of the Democrats’ three remaining governor’s seats in the South.

Kentucky Governor-elect Matt Bevin

Kentucky Governor-elect Matt Bevin

Unofficial results from the Secretary of State’s office showed Bevin with 53 percent to 44 percent for Democratic  Attorney General Jack Conway in the November 3 vote.

The win marks a remarkable feat for Bevin, 48, who jumped into the race right before the filing deadline, won the Republican primary by less than 100 votes and trailed Conway in the polls throughout the general election.

“What an extraordinary night this is,” Bevin told cheering supporters in Louisville. “This is a chance for a fresh start, it truly is, and we desperately need it.”

Bevin also issued a call for unity, saying, “We are one Kentucky–black, white, rural, urban, at both ends of the socio-economic spectrum.”

A turning point in the race may have come in September, when Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis was jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses for same-sex couples on religious grounds.

Bevin embraced Davis’s fight, meeting with her and calling on Democratic Governor Steve Beshear to issue an executive order relieving Davis of the responsibility for signing marriage licenses.

Republicans had a good night across the board in the Bluegrass State, taking five of the seven statewide constitutional offices, with the attorney general’s race too close to call. The only outright Democratic winner was Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who also challenged McConnell unsuccessfully in 2014.

Bevin’s running mate for lieutenant governor, Jenean Hampton, a Tea Party activist and former Air Force captain, is the first African-American ever elected to statewide office in Kentucky.

Although the commonwealth has become reliably Republican at the federal level, Bevin is just the second Republican in the last 44 years to be elected governor. Beshear was term limited.

With the GOP’s takeaway in Kentucky, Democrats hold governorships in only two of the 14 Southern states, Virginia and West Virginia, with a race in Louisiana to be decided in a November 21 runoff between Democratic State Rep. John Bel Edwards and Republican U.S. Senator David Vitter.

Matt Bevin holds on to win Kentucky GOP governor’s primary

Failed U.S. Senate candidate defeats State Agriculture Commissioner James Comer by just 83 votes

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

kentucky mugLOUISVILLE (CFP) — Just a year after being crushed by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in a GOP Senate primary, Louisville businessman and Tea Party favorite Matt Bevin has held on to a razor-thin 83-vote lead to win Kentucky’s GOP gubernatorial primary.

Kentucky gubernatorial candidate Matt Bevin

Kentucky gubernatorial candidate Matt Bevin

State Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, who narrowly trailed Bevin in the May 19 vote, had asked for a recanvas. But after the recanvas didn’t change the outcome, Comer conceded on May 29, opting not to ask for a recount.

Bevin will now face the Democratic nominee for governor, Attorney General Jack Conway, in November.

Bevin and Comer both took 33 percent of the vote to 27 percent for  former Louisville Councilman Hal Heiner and 7 percent former Supreme Court Justice Will Scott.

Kentucky abolished its primary runoff in 2008, which means Bevin comes out of the primary with just a third of the vote.

Near the end of the race, Comer’s campaign was rocked by abuse allegations from a former college girlfriend, which he denied. Heiner apologized after the blogger who publicized the allegations acknowledged that he had spoken about them with the husband of Heiner’s running mate for lieutenant governor.

The election result was a political comeback for Bevin, 48, who jumped into the governor’s race just hours before the filing deadline.

Bevin, 48, challenged McConnell in 2014 the backing of outside Republican groups critical of the senator’s leadership, including the Senate Conservatives Fund and FreedomWorks. But in the end, McConnell won easily with more than 60 percent of the vote and went on to win a sixth term in November.

Despite the bitterness of that race, McConnell stayed out of Bevin’s primary fight.

Although Kentucky has become a reliably Republican state at the federal level, the party has only won the governorship once in the last 44 years. The current governor, Democrat Steve Beshear, is term limited.

Kentucky and Mississippi are the only two states that have off-year elections for state constitutional offices in 2015.

Southern Politics 2014: The Year In Review

2014 was a much better year for Republicans than for reality stars revamped as politicos

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

southern states smA congressman man caught kissing. Reality stars trying to remake themselves as politicians. A snowstorm that threatened to torpedo a sitting governor. A top U.S. House leader unceremoniously unseated in a primary. And a flap over a fan during a heated debate.

Those were just some of the strange and unlikely events in Southern politics in 2014, a year that ended with Republicans roaring through the region like Sherman in reverse. Here are some of the memorable moments:

Loose Lips Sink More Than Ships — Republican U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister, a married Christian conservative from northeast Louisiana, was caught on videotape passionately kissing a female staffer who was, ahem, not his wife. He refused to resign but decided not to run for re-election. Then, he changed his mind and ran again, with his wife’s vocal support. But his constituents were less forgiving than the missus, and he finished a distant fourth in the primary.

Snowmageddon — When a January snowstorm paralyzed metro Atlanta, Republican Governor Nathan Deal took the heat for a sluggish state response and his initial attempt to shift the blame elsewhere. But Democratic hopes that this snowy debacle might bury Deal had melted by November, when he was comfortably re-elected.

Taking Aim At Obamacare — Alabama Republican U.S. House candidate Will Brooke posted a YouTube video, entitled “Let’s Do Some Damage,” in which he fired bullets into a copy of the Obamacare bill. The gambit gained him a bit of attention, though, alas, not enough to win the primary in his Birmingham-area district.

Strange Bedfellows — Bill Clinton and Rudy Giuliani both waded into the Florida governor’s race this year, cutting ads for Democrat Charlie Crist and Republican Rick Scott, respectively. However, their shoes were on the other feet in 2006, when Crist was a Republican (before becoming an independent and then a Democrat.) Back then, it was Crist who enjoyed Giuliani’s support, while Clinton backed his Democratic opponent.

Overheated Debate — Speaking of the Florida governor’s race, a televised debate between Crist and Scott came to an abrupt halt when Crist insisted on putting a small fan at his feet under the podium, in apparent violation of the debate rules. Scott first refused to take the stage until the fan was removed, but he eventually relented — after seven awkward minutes of scrambling by the debate moderators. In the end, Scott won a narrow victory.

Real Mean Politics — Three reality TV stars — American Idol Clay Aiken, former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards and former South Carolina Treasurer Thomas Ravenel — all vied for political office this year. But political reality proved harsh, as all three lost badly. However, Aiken is turning his unsuccessful U.S. House campaign in North Carolina into — wait for it — a new reality show.

Biggest Upset — In an outcome that shocked the political world, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia lost his Richmond-area seat to Dave Brat, a little known college professor who ran at Cantor as a Tea Party insurgent. Weep not for Cantor, though. He bounced back with a job on Wall Street.

Worst Campaign — Texas State Senator Wendy Davis tried to parlay her filibuster against a bill restricting abortions in the Lone Star State into the governor’s mansion. But a series of gaffes — including questions about the veracity of her rags-to-riches story as a single trailer-park mom made good — sunk her chances, and she lost by a staggering 20 points.

Weirdest Campaign Appearance — Matt Bevin, who was challenging Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in a GOP primary in Kentucky, appeared at a rally hosted by a group that supports legalizing cockfighting. While insisting he didn’t condone cockfighting, Bevin didn’t help himself when he told a radio reporter that the Founder Fathers were “very actively involved” in the blood sport. Perhaps not surprisingly, McConnell won rather handily.

Best Don Quixote Impression — Mississippi State Senator Chris McDaniel — peeved that he was defeated in a GOP U.S. Senate runoff by crossover votes from Democrats and independents — launched a three-month court fight to overturn the result. Alas, his windmill tilting came to naught, and U.S. Senator Thad Cochran kept the seat.

Best Houdini Impression — Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee faced voters for the first time since lurid details emerged from his bitter 2001 divorce during which he admitted a string of extra-marital affairs and — perhaps even more damaging for an avowed right-to-life lawmaker — encouraging his first wife to have two abortions. However, GOP voters in his district proved surprisingly forgiving, handing DesJarlais a narrow primary victory. He went on to win re-election in November.

If You Can’t Override, Indict — Texas Governor Rick Perry was indicted on charges of abuse of power and coercion over his veto of a funding bill for an Austin prosecutor who refused his demand that she resign after being arrested for driving with a blood alcohol level nearly three times the legal limit. A defiant Perry vowed to fight the charges, noting that in America, “we settle our political differences at the ballot box,” rather than in criminal court.

Double Dipper — Kentucky U.S. Senator Rand Paul announced he would run for re-election in 2016, even as he is also considering a White House bid. One pesky little problem, though: Kentucky law doesn’t allow somebody to be on the ballot for two offices at once. Paul’s supporters are trying to find a way to work around that technicality.

Democrat Dam Breaks in Upper South — While the general election was grim for Democrats across the South, the news was especially depressing in Arkansas and West Virginia, which had been places where the party of Jackson was still competitive. In Arkansas, Republicans took all seven statewide constitutional offices and every congressional seat for the first time since Reconstruction. In West Virginia, the GOP took all three U.S. House seats and captured control of the state legislature for the first time since 1931.

“D” Is The New Scarlet Letter — Three sitting Southern Democratic U.S. senators — Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana — all went down to defeat, paving the way for Republicans to take control of the Senate. Republicans also took away an open seat in West Virginia that they hadn’t won since 1942.

Analysis: Southern Senate races expose fault line that GOP must correct

Incumbents’ weak victories show bitter primaries have become the new normal

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

southern states ttankTea Party-backed insurgents struck out in their quest to unseat sitting Southern Republican U.S. senators this year, with a final tally of 0-for-5.

Mugshot CFPBut while those results are arguably a significant victory for the powers that be in the GOP, a closer look at the results shows a deep and potentially problematic fault line running right through the party. And the rancor and contention generated by the establishment’s aggressive push back against the Tea Party has made that fault line wider.

Historically, sitting senators rarely face much of a battle for renomination. If they have any opposition at all, it is usually dispatched with an easy majority of 70 or 80 percent. While that is still largely true for Democrats, for Republicans — in the South and elsewhere — bitter primary contests seem to have become the new normal. True, all the incumbents survived this year. But they didn’t exactly set the world on fire.

In Tennessee, Lamar Alexander — a well-respected former Cabinet secretary and university president who has won statewide office four times — could only manage a meager 50 percent, while in Mississippi, Thad Cochran was dragged into a runoff that he only survived with the help of Democrats.

John Cornyn in Texas and Lindsey Graham in South Carolina did a bit better (59 percent and 56 percent, respectively), but they should be thankful that their opposition was as weak as it was. If bigger names had gotten into either of these races, the outcome might have been very different.

The Southern GOP senator who performed the best was Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who took 60 percent in his race, despite an avalanche of outside help given to his opponent, Matt Bevin. But that brutish primary did nothing to help McConnell’s prospects in a tough race this fall with Democratic Secretary of State Alison Ludergan Grimes.

What these races, collectively, show is that 40 percent or more of the Republican primary electorate is unhappy enough with their own elected leaders that they are prepared to vote them out — even if that means nominating little known candidates who, in many cases, seem less than fit to sit in the Senate.

For the time being, the GOP might be able to ignore this fault line because there is little indication, except perhaps in Kentucky, that Democrats will be able to take advantage of the Republican schism to flip seats in November.

But if Republicans can’t figure out a way to avoid this internal warfare, Democrats are eventually going to figure out a way to use it to their advantage. And that presents a real and present danger to the political hegemony that the GOP has built in the South.

Yes, 2014 was a victory for the establishment. But it was also a danger-Will-Robinson moment. And the bitterness left over from these primary fights has probably made the divisions within the party even worse, particularly in Mississippi.

Few of those Tea Party Republicans who feel scorned by their party are going to vote Democratic in November, but more than a few may stay home. Is this hemorrhage from the base likely to imperil these sitting Southern senators? No, except maybe for McConnell. But if the establishment can’t find a way to bridge this divide, there is certainly potential for trouble ahead.

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