Governors' Races Bring Mixed Results for Trump, GOP

Republicans split Kentucky, Mississippi gov races, sweep down-ballot

Louisville, KY, residents cast votes at Dunn Elementary School November 5, 2019 / Getty Images
November 6, 2019

Tuesday's state elections in Kentucky and Mississippi brought mixed results for President Donald Trump and the Republican Party, with the GOP enjoying down-ballot success despite splitting the higher-profile gubernatorial races.

In Kentucky, President Donald Trump's last-minute Lexington rally was not enough to save unpopular incumbent governor Matt Bevin, who trails Democrat Andy Beshear, the state's attorney general, by about 5,000 votes. Bevin, however, has refused to concede, suggesting "irregularities" are to blame for his election night deficit. He is expected to request a recount.

In Mississippi, Republicans retained control of the governor's mansion as Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves defeated Democratic attorney general Jim Hood by nearly 40,000 votes. Reeves will replace current Republican governor Phil Bryant, who is leaving office due to term limits.

Republicans saw widespread down-ballot success in both states, winning races for attorney general, auditor, secretary of state, and treasurer.

Bevin approached Election Day with an approval rating of just 34 percent, the lowest in the country among governors. He trailed two statewide Republican candidates, attorney general-elect Daniel Cameron and incumbent state treasurer Allison Ball, by more than 110,000 votes.

Bevin underperformed significantly in Jefferson County, where Beshear led by nearly 100,000 votes. While Jefferson, which contains Louisville, is a Democratic stronghold, Beshear won the county by a historic margin.

When Bevin pushed reforms that slashed teachers' pensions in 2018, schools across the state closed as teachers protested. He lashed out in response, suggesting that children were "sexually assaulted" or "introduced to drugs for the first time" because "there was nobody there to watch them." The Jefferson County Teachers Association, which represents the state's largest district, attacked Bevin for his comments, and Beshear made the issue a focus of his campaign.

Bevin received roughly 88,000 votes in Jefferson, 20,000 fewer than Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did in 2016. McConnell has never lost the county by more than 40,000 votes.

Democrats have characterized the race as an early test of impeachment politics, citing Beshear's upset victory as a sign of Republican vulnerability in 2020. Kentucky Republicans do not see the governor's race as a referendum on Trump. One operative involved in the campaign said Bevin's education and pension reforms put him at odds with voters. Those policies did not hurt his partymates down the ballot.

"Bevin lost tonight because he took on public sector pensions—including teachers," the operative, who spoke on background in order to speak candidly, told the Washington Free Beacon. "Going after groups like teachers, veterans, or seniors to balance the budget isn't a good idea if you want to win your election."

Trump acknowledged that he would be linked to a Bevin loss during the Lexington rally on Monday, telling the crowd that "if you lose, they are going to say Trump suffered the greatest defeat in the history of the world." Trump reiterated his rally sentiment in a Tuesday tweet, writing that Bevin "picked up at least 15 points in last days" and that "Fake News will blame Trump!"

Despite the narrow loss, Bevin has refused to concede. He has one week from Election Day to file a recanvassing request and 10 days to petition for a recount, according to state law. A recanvassing is handled by county election boards, which check voting machines to ensure the accuracy of their returns. A recount would be handled by state courts. Bevin could attempt to contest the election, which requires specific grounds, such as voting corruption.

Though Bevin came up short in Kentucky, Trump's campaign efforts in Mississippi proved successful, as Reeves celebrated a 6-point victory. Trump hosted a rally for Reeves in Tupelo on Friday, calling the Mississippi Republican a "great guy" before touting the nation's economy.

"Unemployment in Mississippi has reached the lowest rate ever recorded, that's not bad, that's not bad," said Trump.

The president congratulated Reeves on Twitter late Tuesday night, adding that the governor-elect displayed "great reaction under pressure."

Trump also recognized Republican success in other statewide races, tweeting that Republicans "won 5 out of 6 elections in Kentucky, including 5 great candidates that I spoke for and introduced last night."

Among the successful candidates are attorney general-elect Daniel Cameron and secretary of state-elect Michael Adams. Cameron will become the first African-American attorney general in Kentucky's history and the first Republican attorney general in the state since 1948. Adams overcame a significant disadvantage in name recognition to defeat Democrat Heather French Henry, a Miss America title holder with experience in state government.

Mississippi Republicans also swept statewide races down-ballot, where two-term state treasurer and Women for Trump state chairman Lynn Fitch was elected the state's first ever female attorney general.