ERLANGER, Kentucky—As Matt Bevin addressed a hotel ballroom full of voters gathered to hear from Republican gubernatorial candidates last week, a ceiling light dislodged just shy of where Bevin's primary opponents sat watching. The light dangled ominously for a moment, threatening to fall, but Bevin didn't miss a beat.
"See? Even the people higher than us agree," Bevin ad-libbed, his warm, breezy response eliciting the biggest laugh of the two-hour event. "I'm not saying that's a sign or anything."
The performance highlighted Bevin's ample charisma, a characteristic that wonky business forums don't always draw out of candidates. Trey Grayson, the head of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, which put on the event, said afterward that he thought Bevin's showing was one of his best yet. "He's funny, he's likable," said Grayson, a former Republican officeholder who moderated the forum. "If you sat there and didn't really know anything about the four of them, you would be impressed with him."
Yet Kentuckians already know plenty about Bevin, much of it unflattering. The businessman drew a sharp contrast with Sen. Mitch McConnell in a primary last year, and McConnell spared no expense crushing his rival. The year before becoming Senate majority leader, McConnell and his team criticized Bevin for a LinkedIn profile claiming that he graduated from MIT (he didn't), evidence that he once supported the federal bank bailout before railing against it, and, most damaging of all, Bevin's speech at a pro-cockfighting rally, for which he had to apologize.