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Polls point to razor-close governor’s races in Kentucky, Mississippi heading into last week

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.

Beshear

Bevin

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.

Hood

Reeves

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.

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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:

McBattle 2020: Amy McGrath will run against Mitch McConnell in Kentucky

Race pits retired Marine fighter pilot with fundraising chops against the most powerful Republican in Congress

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

LEXINGTON (CFP) — After nearly unseating a sitting Republican congressman in 2018, Democrat Amy McGrath has set her sights on a much bigger target in 2020 — the most powerful Republican in Congress, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The retired Marine fighter pilot announced July 9 that she will challenge McConnell next year, setting the stage for a marquee Senate battle with national implications that will submerge 4.5 million Kentuckians in a sea of negative advertising.

McGrath announces Senate race on Twitter

McGrath pulled no punches in her opening campaign video, saying the senator “was elected a lifetime ago and has, bit by bit, year by year, turned Washington into something we all despise … a place where ideals go to die.”

“There is a path to resetting our country’s moral compass, where each of us is heard,” she said. “But to do that, we have to win this.”

McConnell’s campaign responded in kind, launching a website. “WrongPathMcGrath.com,” and posting a video on Twitter featuring comments McGrath made in her 2018 race, including saying that “I am further left, more progressive than anybody in Kentucky” and comparing her feelings after President Donald Trump’s election in 2016 to how she felt after seeing the towers fall on  9/11.

“Welcome to the race, Amy,” read the McConnell campaign’s tweet atop the video.

McGrath’s decision to take on McConnell was a win for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and other Senate Democratic leaders who had been recruiting her for the race. But she will face the most formidable force in Kentucky and national politics, who easily swatted away both primary and general election challenges in 2014.

McGrath, 44, who grew up in the Cincinnati suburbs in northern Kentucky, is a Naval Academy graduate who served in both Afghanistan and Iraq as a Marine fighter pilot. After retiring in 2017, she returned to Kentucky to seek the 6th District U.S. House seat against Republican U.S. Rep. Andy Barr.

She raised more than $8.6 million for that race, thanks in part to a video about her life story that went viral, and dispatched a better-known candidate in the Democratic primary before losing to Barr in November by less than 10,000 votes.

Her decision to run for the Senate is good news for Barr, who won’t face a rematch. He has yet to draw another major Democratic challenger.

McConnell, 77, is seeking his seventh term in the Senate; when he was first elected in 1984, McGrath was just 9 years old. He has led Senate Republicans since 2007 and became majority leader in 2015 after the GOP took control.

McConnell, a frequent object of wrath from Trump partisans and some Tea Party groups, has drawn a GOP primary challenge from former State Rep. Wesley Morgan, from Richmond, who has said McConnell “embodies everything that is perverted in Washington D.C.”

However, it is unlikely Morgan — who endorsed a Democrat for his House seat after losing a Republican primary in 2018 — will be able to mount a substantial primary challenge against McConnell, who in 2014 swatted away a much more serious challenge from now-Governor Matt Bevin.

In 2014, Democrats had high hopes of unseating McConnell with Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. But in the end, McConnell won by 15 points.

Given McConnell’s stature and McGrath’s fundraising prowess, the 2020 race is likely to feature an avalanche of outside advertising in a small state with just two large urban areas and four television markets.

In 2014, McConnell and Grimes spent a combined $50 million, or about $11 for every man, woman and child in the commonwealth. And those figures don’t include spending by outside groups.

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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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Bluegrass feud: Kentucky lieutenant governor cries foul over dismissal of staff

Jenean Hampton’s power struggle with Matt Bevin’s administration accelerates since she was dumped from his re-election ticket

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

FRANKFORT, Kentucky (CFP) — Kentucky Lieutenant Governor Jenean Hampton has fired off an angry letter demanding that Governor Matt Bevin‘s administration stop firing members of her staff, as the relationship between the state’s two top political leaders continues to deteriorate.

Lieutenant Governor Jenean Hampton

“In the future, you are not to execute any personnel action involving my staff unless you have my express, written permission,” Hampton said in a letter to Troy Robinson, the head of the governor’s Office of Administrative Services, which was obtained by the Lexington Herald-Leader.

On May 30, Robinson’s office, which oversees human resources for state executive officers, terminated Hampton’s deputy chief of staff, leaving her with just one staff member.

The lieutenant governor then took to Twitter to ask for prayers “as I battle dark forces.”

The firing marks that second time Hampton has seen one of her staff members fired without her assent.

In January, her chief of staff, Steve Knipper, was fired when he filed to run for secretary of state. She tried without success to rehire him by issuing her own executive order.

The reasons for the latest firing remain unclear; Bevin told reporters he was not aware of the staffer’s termination and did not know the reason for the firing.

The personnel dispute is the latest sign of a deteriorating relationship between Bevin and Hampton, who was vaulted to the No. 2 position in Kentucky politics after he selected her as his running mate in 2015.

Earlier this year, Bevin announced he was dumping Hampton — the first African American to serve in a statewide constitutional office — from his ticket in favor of State Senator Ralph Alvarado..

He offered no explanation for the switch other than to say he chose not to run with Hampton “because I chose to run with Ralph Alvarado.”

Hampton, 61, a former Air Force captain from Bowling Green, was a favorite of Tea Party groups, who had lobbied Bevin to keep her on his ticket.

Kentucky is one of 13 states where candidates for governor select a running mate, rather than electing lieutenant governors separately.

The duties of the lieutenant governor are limited to participation on several state boards and taking over in the event a governor cannot continue in office. The lieutenant governor does not preside of the State Senate, as is the case in 26 other states.

In her letter to Robinson, Hampton said she “did not advise or authorize you to terminate employment” of Adrienne Southworth, her deputy chief of staff.

“I was not consulted in this action, and I fail to understand how my staff can be terminated without discussing matters with me, their immediate supervisor,” she said. “Neither you nor anyone other than myself is positioned to determine if the services of my staffers are needed or not.”

Hampton demanded that Southworth be reinstated and that she be provided with the reasons behind her termination.

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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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