Polls close in Kentucky gubernatorial race, as Trump calls for angry majority to rise
Polls closed Tuesday evening in the closely contested governor’s race in Kentucky, where President Trump has called for an “angry majority” of GOP voters — a nod to Richard Nixon’s “silent majority” and Ronald Reagan’s “moral majority” — to send a powerful message to Democrats heading into the 2020 election season.
Polls in Virginia’s state legislature races, where Democrats are seeking to retake both chambers, have also closed. Voting in Mississippi’s competitive governor’s race will end at 8 p.m. ET.
Headlining a fired-up rally at Rupp Arena in Lexington on Monday night, Trump jokingly acknowledged that the elections could be seen as a barometer of his popular support amid Democrats’ impeachment inquiry. If Republicans triumphed, Trump remarked, the media would cover it as a “ho-hum” event — but if Democrats won, the day would be portrayed as a major loss for the White House.
“You can’t let that happen to me!” Trump said, laughing.
Top Democrats have acknowledged that Trump’s influence helped the GOP sweep key House special elections in North Carolina in September, and incumbent Republican Gov. Matt Bevin has sought to capitalize on Trump’s tremendous popularity in Kentucky in ads, tweets and speeches throughout the campaign.
It was part of his strategy to nationalize the race and rev up his conservative base. The state voted for Trump by 30 percentage points in 2016, but Bevin is facing a competitive challenge from Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear.
Kentucky Attorney General and Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Andy Beshear studies his ballot at the Knights of Columbus polling location Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019, in Louisville, Ky. Kentucky’s voters are now deciding the political grudge match between Republican Gov. Matt Bevin and Beshear. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)
The governor has forcefully called for a crackdown on illegal immigration and a ban on “sanctuary cities,” which protect illegal immigrants from federal law enforcement. Bevin has also denounced the impeachment investigation of Trump, and stressed his opposition to abortion.
Meanwhile, in Mississippi, Attorney General Jim Hood sought to become the second Democratic governor in the Deep South, in the state’s most competitive gubernatorial election in years. He’s facing Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who got campaign help from both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. The president visited the state on Tuesday.
Hood, Reeves and two lesser-known candidates are competing on Tuesday’s ballot to succeed term-limited Republican Gov. Phil Bryant.
Democrats see Hood as their strongest nominee in nearly a generation in a conservative state where Republicans have been governor for 24 of the past 28 years.
But Mississippi has a Jim Crow-era election process that could make a tight election difficult to decide on Election Day. The state’s 1890 constitution requires a statewide candidate to win a majority of both the popular vote and an electoral vote, with one electoral vote awarded to the top vote-getter in each of 122 state House districts.
If nobody wins both, the election is decided by the state House, now controlled by Republicans.
The lone Democratic governor in the Deep South, Louisiana’s John Bel Edwards, is in a Nov. 16 runoff as he seeks a second term. Trump is set to headline a rally in Monroe, Louisiana, on behalf of GOP candidate Eddie Rispone on Wednesday.
Separately, Virginians were casting ballots Tuesday to decide which party should control the statehouse in a widely watched contest.
The Old Dominion’s legislative elections are serving as the marquee warmup for the 2020 election cycle as well as a referendum on the state’s gun laws and abortion rights. Outside groups and political parties are test-driving expensive campaigns to win over and motivate voters in a state that was until recently considered a presidential battleground.
Of the four states holding legislative elections this year, Virginia is the only one with control of the statehouse up for grabs. Republicans have a slim majority in both the state House and Senate, but Virginia has been trending blue for years thanks to growth in more diverse, liberal suburbs and cities, and population declines in more rural, conservative areas.
Democrats are looking to take control of both the executive mansion and the General Assembly for the first time in more than two decades.
Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, is not up for reelection Tuesday but has been actively campaigning for his party’s candidates after bouncing back from a near politically fatal blackface scandal earlier this year. In a radio interview, Northam also endorsed the practice of killing newborns under certain conditions, as long as they were “kept comfortable.”
Still, Democrats are hoping voters send a message that the anti-Trump energy that has powered blue waves in the last two elections is still robust.
Republican nominee for governor and current Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, right, joins other registered voters in voting at his Flowood, Miss., precinct, Tuesday Nov. 5, 2019. Voters are having their say in Mississippi’s most hotly contested governor’s race since 2003. They are also selecting six other statewide officials and deciding a host of legislative and local offices. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
There were some indications, however, that Tuesday’s state contests might reflect more on individual candidates, rather than the president.
For example, in Kentucky, Bevin drew widespread criticism when he lashed out at teachers who used sick days to go on strike. In 2018, Bevin asserted without evidence that an unidentified child who had been left home alone somewhere in the state had been sexually assaulted on a day of mass school closings as teachers rallied.
He apologized but doubled down earlier this year by connecting a girl’s shooting in Louisville with school closings caused by teacher protests.
“Bevin wants to be bailed out by President Trump, who won the state by a mile in 2016, and it seems like he is bringing up impeachment about every chance he can get,” said Fox News’ anchor and chief national correspondent Ed Henry.
And Beshear, the son of Kentucky’s last Democratic governor, countered Bevin’s campaign with a disciplined campaign style that stressed what he called “kitchen table” issues — education, jobs and health care. He exploited Bevin’s combative style, branding the governor as a bully for a running feud with teachers who opposed his efforts to revamp the state’s woefully underfunded public pension systems.
Leah Askarinam, a reporter and analyst with the nonpartisan newsletter Inside Elections, noted that even in these increasingly partisan times, voters might be “willing to cross party lines when it comes to governance of their specific states.”
“Gubernatorial candidates can campaign on issues that are state-specific like the state’s budget and education funding — and they can cross party lines without facing the same kind of political pressure as Senate candidates who have to work with a national legislature,” Askarinam said. “We’ve seen candidates like John Bel Edwards support state policies that limit abortion access, for example, which is a much more difficult stance to take as a Democrat in the Senate.”
Voters walk through a sea of campaign signs at a polling station in Richmond, Va., Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. All seats in the Virginia House of Delegates and State senate are up for election. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
The Kentucky election will settle a bitter rivalry that stretched from the statehouse to courtrooms and finally to the campaign. Wielding his authority as the state’s top lawyer, Beshear filed a series of lawsuits challenging Bevin’s executive actions to make wholesale changes to boards and commissions and sought to block Bevin-backed pension and education initiatives. In the highest-profile case, a Beshear lawsuit led Kentucky’s Supreme Court to strike down a Bevin-supported pension law on procedural grounds last year.
Bevin ramped up the rivalry by frequently attacking Beshear and his challenger’s father in deeply personal terms. Beshear’s father, former two-term Gov. Steve Beshear, preceded Bevin in office.
Andy Beshear took a shot at Bevin on Tuesday after Trump’s visit.
“He had to have someone come to town for him, because he knew he couldn’t win it on his own merits,” Beshear said.
Kentucky’s secretary of state, Alison Lundergan Grimes, predicted that just 31 percent of Kentucky’s registered voters will go to the polls — at or slightly above turnout in the 2015 governor’s election.
Fox News’ Paul Steinhauser and The Associated Press contributed to this report.