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Republican incumbent Gov. Matt Bevin refused to concede late Tuesday in Kentucky’s gubernatorial race, citing “irregularities” — potentially kickstarting weeks of uncertainty and legal battles as the closely-watched contest with national implications remains too close to call.
With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Bevin was behind Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear, 49.2 percent (711,955 votes) to 48.9 percent (707,297 votes). Libertarian candidate John Hicks received 28,475 votes, or 2.0 percent.
The Associated Press said it could not declare a winner. Kentucky law provides for three levels of post-election procedures: a recanvass, a recount, and an election contest.
Kentucky candidates have a week from Election Day to file a request for recanvassing with the Secretary of State. If a recanvassing happens, the county election boards will recheck each machine and report the figure back to the county clerk. The law allows a representative from both campaigns to be present as the recanvassing occurs.
The recanvassing process simply checks each machine to make sure that the numbers reported to the State Board of Elections were not misreported or incorrectly added. Ballots themselves are not recounted; instead, a recanvass is simply a way to double-check that the machines tallied the votes correctly. Recanvassing is unlikely impact the results.
There is no automatic recount process in Kentucky. Instead, a challenger must file a petition with the Franklin Circuit Court, by Nov. 13, to seek a formal recount. The challenger would have to front the cost of the recount. A Kentucky judge would manage the recount procedure.
That judge would take possession of the voting machines and paper ballots and would conduct his or her own recount of the ballots. As about one-thirds of Kentucky voters use an electronic voting machine with no paper trail, in a “recount” of these votes the judge would simply check the count of the machine once again – making it more like a recanvass, at least for these ballots. But for the other two-thirds of voters, the judge can actually recount each ballot. The judge’s decision on who won would be final, subject to possible appeal to the Kentucky Court of Appeals or even the Kentucky Supreme Court.
Then there’s an election contest. Once again, the challenger would have to request one by November 13, so he might do so in conjunction with his request for a recount. An election contest is even more judicial in nature, as the challenger would have to specify the grounds for the action – such as some form of “corrupt practice” like a violation of state campaign finance rules or particular issues with the vote casting process.
Although Trump carried deep-red Kentucky by 30 points in the 2016 presidential election, Bevin is unusually unpopular for a Republican in the state, owing in part to his numerous spats with public school teachers and his plan to address a growing pension crisis.
Bevin was significantly underperforming the rest of the GOP ticket on the ballot in Kentucky on Tuesday, as Republican candidate Daniel Cameron handily won his race to become the state’s next attorney general. He made history as the first African-American to be elected Kentucky Attorney General and the first Republican to hold the post in more than 70 years.
In a major indicator that Bevin is unpopular among Kentuckians, Cameron received 774,864 votes in his 15-percentage-point win — while Bevin garnered only approximately 700,000 votes for his marquee gubernatorial bid. It is highly unusual for down-ballot races to attract more voter interest than gubernatorial contests.
Republican Daniel Cameron was elected the state’s first-ever black Attorney General on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley, File)
Meanwhile, Republican attorney and former elections board member Michael Adams was easily elected as Kentucky’s next secretary of state, and Republican Mike Harmon was re-elected as Kentucky auditor. Additionally, Republican Ryan Quarles was re-elected as Kentucky commissioner of agriculture, and GOP incumbent Allison Ball won a second term as Kentucky’s treasurer.
In a worrying sign for Republicans in the long term, Bevin underperformed in Northern Kentucky, typically a GOP stronghold, and among suburban voters in several counties outside of Cincinnati.
Apparently aware of his problems with voters, Bevin had remarked in February, “There has never been a poll ever taken since I’ve been a candidate or since I’ve been governor … that has ever found me above water on anything or likely to win anything, ever. … Polls, shmolls.”
Also on Tuesday, Virginia Democrats took control of the state Senate for the first time in five years, as the state continues its dramatic leftward shift. Results were still pending in several state House races, where the GOP holds a slim majority.
In Mississippi, GOP candidate Tate Reeves was well ahead of Democratic candidate Jim Hood, with only 15 percent of precincts reporting. Results were still coming in late Tuesday, and the race — the state’s tightest governor’s race in years, according to polling data — was too early too call.
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.
— Defeated Republican Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, in February
“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 Bevin had sought to capitalize on Trump’s tremendous popularity in Kentucky in ads, tweets and speeches throughout the campaign.
Kentucky Governor and Republican gubernatorial candidate Matt Bevin, right, shakes hands with a poll worker after casting his ballot in the state’s general election in Louisville, Ky., Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
The governor had forcefully called for a crackdown on illegal immigration and a ban on “sanctuary cities,” which protect illegal immigrants from federal law enforcement. Bevin also denounced the impeachment investigation of Trump, and stressed his opposition to abortion.
In Mississippi, Hood, the attorney general, was seeking on Tuesday to become the second Democratic governor in the Deep South. Reeves, who got campaign help from both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, is currently lieutenant governor. 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.
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)
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 reflected 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.
President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally in Lexington, Ky., Monday, Nov. 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
“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 settled 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.
Fox News’ Jim Murphy, Michael Tobin, Paul Steinhauser and The Associated Press contributed to this report.