Kentucky's Republican Gov. Matt Bevin will face off against the state's Attorney General Andy Beshear, a Democrat, at Northern Kentucky University tomorrow for the state's final gubernatorial debate.
It promises to be a heated discussion likely focusing on tough questions around the region's aging Brent Spence Bridge, the state's ailing pension fund, related "sick-outs" by the state's public school teachers, health care policy and other big issues.
Bevin, currently finishing up his first term as governor, was a Trump-like outsider candidate with no previous political experience when he won election in 2015. He became just the third GOP governor since World War II to win election in Kentucky. The state had long been a Democratic Party stronghold but has shifted substantially toward Republicans in recent years.
Prior to his run for governor, Bevin launched a Tea Party-backed primary challenge to powerful senator Mitch McConnell in 2014 but lost.
Beshear, the son of former Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, battled back primary challenges from fellow Democrats like Kentucky House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins and former Kentucky State Auditor Adam Edelen. Beshear took 38 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary compared to Adkins' 32 percent and Edelen's 28 percent. Adkins took many of the state's rural eastern counties, while Beshear did well in the state's urban areas.
Bevin's term in office has seen a number of controversies, including questions around the sale of a mansion to the Bevin family by a donor and uproar from some in Kentucky over comments he has made about vaccinations and cold-weather school closings, as well as his suggestion that Kentucky students experienced molestation or abuse during a public teacher sick-out. That sick-out came as a protest against moves Bevin has made to try and shore up the state's ailing pension fund, which is deeply underfunded.
There are signs the tumult around the governor's office has weakened Bevin to a degree, and his showing in the primary wasn't as dominant as expected from an incumbent governor in a state controlled by his own party. His main primary competitor, Kentucky State Rep. Robert Goforth, got almost 40 percent of the vote to Bevin's 52 percent.
Beshear has had a controversy of his own to contend with — allegations of corruption against his deputy attorney general Tim Longmeyer, who in 2016 was found guilty of accepting bribes during his time in Gov. Steve Beshear's cabinet. There isn't any evidence the younger Beshear knew about those bribes, but his primary opponent Edelen used the incident to attack Beshear.
The candidates have fought bitterly with each other during their terms. In 2017, Beshear said he wouldn't try to defend the state against federal legal challenges to a Kentucky law banning abortion after 20 weeks because he believed it is unconstitutional. Bevin has staunchly supported that law and blasted Beshear for the decision. Beshear has challenged executive orders issued by Bevin and has filed a number of lawsuits against Bevin's administration.
Both described the race in stark terms as they launched their campaigns.
“It is not about what’s going on in Washington, D.C,” Beshear said at his primary victory party. “It’s not about the nasty attacks that Matt Bevin has already launched, starting tonight. And it’s not about right versus left, folks. It’s about right versus wrong.”
Bevin expressed almost the same sentiment from the opposite side of the partisan divide.
“People in Kentucky are going to have a very clear and distinct choice in November,” Bevin said after the results came in during the GOP primary. “Conservative versus liberal, black and white, it’s that clear.”
Tomorrow's debate will take place at NKU's James C. and Rachel M. Votruba Student Union Ballroom from 7 to 8 p.m.