Tea-party-backed businessman Matt Bevin completed a stunning political comeback Tuesday, winning the Kentucky governor’s race after entering the campaign at the very last moment earlier this year.
Bevin led Democrat Jack Conway, Kentucky’s two-term attorney general, 52 percent to 44 percent when the Associated Press called the race just after 8 p.m. Conway never trailed in a public poll this summer or fall, or during the run-up to Election Day, and Bevin even trailed in his campaign’s own internal polling. But the Republican kept the race close and Kentucky’s increasingly conservative lean swept him home.
Bevin’s victory upends a decades-long trend in Kentucky in which Democrats have seen success at the state level despite struggling in federal races. Bevin leaned on social issues, including Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis’s refusal to issue same-sex marriage licenses this summer, to energize conservative voters. Bevin also criticized Conway for not defending the state’s same-sex marriage ban in court as attorney general.
And the Republican Governors Association spent millions of dollars on ads tying Conway to President Obama on coal, health care, and other issues, a formula that the group rode to success in other red-state races over the past five years.