Former House Speaker Tip O’Neill famously said, "all politics is local." After Republican Matt Bevin’s surprisingly convincing victory to become Kentucky’s next governor, the maxim should be reversed. All local politics are now national. Bevin, with help from the Republican Governors Association, effectively utilized national issues—gay marriage, Planned Parenthood, federal energy policy, President Obama’s health care law—to bludgeon Democrat Jack Conway, who tried to distance himself from his party’s national brand to no avail.
And the biggest drag of all for Conway was Obama. The RGA unleashed a last-week $1 million ad blitz connecting the Democratic state attorney general to Obama—a potent line of attack in a state where the president’s disapproval rating is near 70 percent.
Just as the Kentucky gubernatorial campaign carried national overtones, the results from Tuesday night’s election carry national lessons. Here are four of the most significant takeaways:
1. You can’t trust the polls anymore. Nearly every public poll during the Kentucky governor’s race, and even the private partisan surveys we heard about, showed Conway with a small, consistent advantage throughout the general election. The final Bluegrass poll, conducted between Oct. 23-26 by the automated pollster SurveyUSA, showed Conway leading Bevin by five points, 45 percent to 40 percent. Bevin ended up winning convincingly, 53-44. The poll showed Kentucky Democrats winning all but one of the statewide offices. Instead, they came close to being entirely shut out, with only state attorney general candidate Andy Beshear and Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes barely prevailing.