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Insight: What do 2019’s election results in the South tell us about 2020?

Wins in Kentucky and Louisiana aren’t nirvana for Democrats, but they do show limits to GOP strategy of socialist pigeonholing

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

Now that the dust has cleared from elections in four Southern states earlier this month, what are the lessons, if any, for 2020 elections in which both the presidency and control of Congress will be on the line?

Some pundits in the chattering class and Democratic politicians have looked at victories by Democrats in governor’s races in deep red Kentucky and Louisiana and gleefully found evil portends for their GOP rivals next year.

That would be overreach.

Editor Rich Shumate

In Kentucky, Democrat Andy Beshear won because the Republican incumbent, Matt Bevin, was as popular as a skin rash after four years of gratuitous insults and irritation. In Louisiana, Democratic incumbent John Bel Edwards — that rarest of creatures, a pro-life Democrat — had strong job approval numbers and ran as far away as he could from the Elizabeth Warrens and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortezes in his party.

Trump couldn’t push Republicans over the finish line in either race, but Republicans carried all of the other statewide contests in both states and had a clean sweep in of state offices in Mississippi. So it would be a mistake to see these Democratic wins as a referendum on Trump, and Democrats shouldn’t find much solace in what was otherwise a rather dismal showing.

Still, the wins by Beshear and Edwards showed that the Republican strategy of calling Democrats socialists and ginning up the faithful with Trump rallies has its limits, even in states that the president carried by more than 20 points. In states with more even strength between the parties — Florida, Georgia, Texas, and North Carolina — that strategy could be even less effective next year, particularly at the presidential level and in U.S. Senate races in the latter three states.

What should be of more concern to Republicans is the fact that the Democratic vote in cities and suburban areas was unusually strong and decidedly Democratic in 2019, mirroring a trend seen in 2018 when Democrats took control of the U.S. House.

Beshear won in Kentucky by carrying Louisville and Lexington and their suburbs by a margin of 135,000 votes, swamping Republican margins in the rest of the state. In Louisiana, Edwards won by carrying Baton Rouge, Shreveport and New Orleans by almost 165,000 votes, including winning almost 90 percent of the vote in Orleans Parish and carrying suburban Jefferson Parish — home of House GOP Whip Steve Scalise — by 14 points.

The news for Republicans was even worse in Virginia, where Democrats took control of both houses of the legislature — in elections that used maps drawn by Republicans to protect Republicans — by gaining more ground in the suburbs around Washington, Richmond, and Norfolk. Among the casualties was the last Republican House member representing a district in the inner Washington suburbs, which 20 years ago was undisputed GOP territory.

In 2018, newfound Democratic strength in the suburbs allowed the party to take competitive U.S. House seats in Atlanta, Richmond, Miami, Dallas and Houston — and get surprise wins in Oklahoma City and Charleston. If that trend, also seen in 2019, continues into 2020, it could potentially put more seats into play in Little Rock, Tampa, Lexington, San Antonio and across North Carolina, where a court recently forced Republican legislators to redraw gerrymandered maps.

Over in the Senate, Republicans are defending two seats in Georgia and seats in Texas and North Carolina where Democrats now have a plausible path to victory, if they can push the urban/suburban vote past the pro-Trump margin in small towns and rural areas as they did in 2019. And the eyes of the nation will be on Kentucky, where Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will be defending his seat in the wake of Beshear’s breakthrough.

McConnell’s job approval numbers are 13 points underwater in Kentucky, according to the latest Morning Consult survey, making him one of the nation’s least popular senators. However, McConnell has substantially more political acumen than Bevin and a much better political machine, and he could benefit if he faces a Democrat whom he can pigeonhole as a leftist.

McConnell’s campaign is already taking aim at his only announced Democratic rival, Amy McGrath, who raised $8.6 million in an unsuccessful congressional race in 2018 but started the campaign with an embarrassing flip-flop on whether she would have voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. (First she said yes, then she said no.)

Rocky Adkins, a folksy, pro-life state legislator from Eastern Kentucky who ran second to Beshear in this year’s gubernatorial primary, is also considering entering the race and could prove a much more slippery target for McConnell’s ad makers.

Democrats need a net gain of four seats to take control of the Senate; three seats will be enough if a Democrat also carries the White House. That task will be very uphill if they don’t make breakthroughs in the South.

In the presidential race, the question will be if any the Democrats in the 2020 field can survive in the South in a binary match-up against Trump and his faithful followers.

Virginia is probably a lock for the Democrats, and Florida and North Carolina are always in play. The wild cards will be Georgia and Texas, where the heavy urban-suburban Democratic vote seen in 2018 and 2019 could make things interesting if it materializes again in 2020. (Trump carried Georgia by just 5 points in 2016; the margin was 9 points in Texas.)

However, it should be noted that if either Beshear or Edwards were in the presidential race, they would be far and away the most conservative candidate in the Democratic field. So could a presidential candidate who is highly likely to be substantially to their left duplicate the success they had locally in 2019, particularly in states where the president remains more popular than he does nationally?

Mmmm … don’t bet the rent.

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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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Legal abortion has become fault line in Kentucky’s Democratic primary for governor

State Rep. Rocky Adkins breaks with much of his party by supporting bill banning most abortions after a heartbeat is detected

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

LOUISVILLE (CFP) — Rocky Adkins, the former Democratic leader of the Kentucky House, is among America’s rarest political species — a Democrat who opposes legal abortion. And that stance has become a clear fault line in the Democratic race for governor.

Kentucky State Rep. Rocky Adkins

Adkins is running in the May 20 primary against two Democrats who support legal abortion — Attorney General Andy Beshear and former State Auditor Adam Edelen — and the issue has taken on prominence not usually found in Democratic intra-party skirmishes.

“I am pro-life,” said Adkins, who represents a rural House district in eastern Kentucky, said during a recent debate. “You express the views of your constituents that you represent in the legislature for your votes, and that’s what I’ve tried to do.”

Adkins is a member of the legislature’s Pro-Life Caucus. Earlier this year, he was one of 10 Democrats in the House who voted for Kentucky’s “heartbeat bill,” which would ban most abortions once the baby’s heartbeat can be detected.

That measure was signed into law by the man these Democrats all hope to replace, Republican Governor Matt Bevin, who has made his opposition to abortion a feature of his re-election campaign.

Edelen has denounced the new law as “an experiment by the radical right to eliminate this protection for women.” Beshear, who describes himself as “pro-choice,” has refused as attorney general to defend the new law against a legal challenge.

When the issue came up in a recent debate, Beshear observed that “the only person who is excited we’re having this conversation is Matt Bevin. This is all he’s going to talk about in the general election.”

A Pew Research Center study found that 57 percent of Kentuckians thought abortion should be illegal in most cases, while only 36 percent supported legal abortion. Only four states — Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and West Virginia — are more pro-life.

Pew also found less support for abortion among people living in rural areas than in cities or suburbs. Edelen is from Lexington and Beshear is from Louisiville; Adkins is from Sandy Hook, population 600.

However, the issue of abortion cuts across Democratic politics in Kentucky in a way not seen in much of the rest of the country. When the heartbeat bill came up in the House earlier this year, only a minority of the Democratic caucus actively opposed the measure. Nineteen Democrats voted no, 10 voted yes — and 10 absented themselves rather than cast a vote.

The abortion crosscurrents are also visible in the Democratic race for governor.  Beshear’s running mate, Jacqueline Coleman, described herself as a “pro-life Democrat” when she ran for the legislature in 2014 from a rural seat, though she now says she supports a woman’s right to choose an abortion. By contrast, Adkins’s running mate, Stephanie Horne, who is from Louisville, supports legal abortion.

Edelen and his running mate, Gill Holland, both support legal abortion, which Edelen has been using in the campaign to draw a contrast with Beshear and Adkins.

While the general election politics in Kentucky would clearly favor a candidate who doesn’t support legal abortion, Democratic primary politics are perhaps another matter. Adkins has not emphasized the issue during the campaign, has said he would “follow the Constitution” and has tied his opposition to abortion to his support for pre-K funding and bills to strengthen adoption and foster care.

“I’ve also said that we need to put warm food on the table and a roof over these babies’ heads when they’re born,” Adkins said.

Should Adkins triumph in the primary and then win the general election, he would join Louisiana Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards, who is running for re-election this fall, as the only Southern governors who oppose legal abortion.

Mississippi Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood, who is also running for governor in 2019, is also an abortion opponent.

The two other Southern Democratic governors, Roy Cooper in North Carolina and Ralph Northam in Virginia, both support legal abortion.

Cooper recently vetoed a bill that would have made it a crime for abortion doctors to kill babies born alive during an abortion procedure, saying a new law was not necessary.

Northam last year supported a bill that would have made it easier for women to obtain abortions in the third trimester, which failed to gain approval in the legislature.

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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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Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin dumps Lieutenant Governor Jenean Hampton from ticket

Hampton, a Tea Party favorite, was first African American to hold statewide office

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

FRANKFORT, Kentucky (CFP) — Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin has switched running mates for his 2019 re-election bid, dropping Lieutenant Governor Jenean Hampton in favor of State Senator Ralph Alvarado.

At a January 25 news conference in the Capitol rotunda unveiling the new team, Bevin did not offer a detailed explanation for the change, saying only that he chose not to run with Hampton “because I chose to run with Ralph Alvarado.”

He described Hampton — the first African American to ever hold statewide office in Kentucky — as a “dear and personal friend” and “an extraordinary lieutenant governor.”

Tea Party groups who backed Bevin in his 2015 race had been lobbying him to keep Hampton, an Air Force veteran and Tea Party activist from Bowling Green who had never held elected office before Bevin picked her as his running mate.

Kentucky Lieutenant Governor Jenean Hampton

Hampton did not make any immediate comment about her departure from Bevin’s gubernatorial ticket, although she told her hometown paper, the Bowling Green Daily News, that she wanted to continue as lieutenant governor.

Alvarado, 48, is a physician from Winchester who was first elected to the Senate in 2014, becoming the first Latino to serve in the commonwealth’s legislature. The son of immigrant parents, he gave an address at the 2016 Republican National Convention, partially in Spanish.

“I’m humbled the governor has even considered me,” Alvarado said of his selection. “I think the vision that he has had for this state needs to be carried on and carried forward.”

Alvarado’s presence on the ticket could help Bevin mend his frayed relations with Republicans in the legislature, with whom he has sparred over pension reform, an issue that has roiled politics in the Bluegrass over the past two years.

Bevin, whose job approval rating in a December Mason-Dixon poll lagged at just 38 percent, is facing a GOP primary challenge from one of Alvarado’s legislative colleagues, State Rep. Robert Goforth from London.

However, Alvarado could also become a target for Bevin’s Democratic opponents due to his record in the legislature.

Alvarado helped push through a controversial law that made it more difficult for patients to pursue malpractice claims against doctors, which was unanimously struck down by the Kentucky Supreme Court.

The Lexington Herald-Leader also reported that Alvarado works for several nursing homes that have been rated as being of substandard quality by federal inspectors while pushing legislation that would make it more difficult for nursing home patients to sue.

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

The primary is May 21.

The Mason-Dixon poll in December showed Beshear with an 8-point lead over Bevin in a head-to-head match up, right at the poll’s margin of error; Adkins and Bevin were even.

Kentucky is one of 13 states where candidates for governor select a running mate, rather than electing lieutenant governors separately. The only other Southern state using this system is Florida.

In Kentucky, 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

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