While the majority of the races Tuesday were far from close, just more than 5,000 votes separate Governor-elect Andy Beshear and current Governor Matt Bevin.
The difference is a turn from Bevin’s 85,000-vote victory over Jack Conway in 2015 despite Republicans winning every down ballot race — including flipping the Secretary of State and Attorney General offices.
“I think it was pretty clear that the Republican Party of Kentucky is very, very popular, but Matt Bevin was not,” said Les Fugate, a Republican analyst and former deputy Secretary of State under Trey Grayson. “Republicans not only won every race, but won big in every race. Governor Bevin was far on the other side.”
Fugate said it was easy to see voter frustrations weren’t with the party or public policy.
Al Cross, a University of Kentucky professor and political commentator, agreed.
“(Bevin) dug himself a deep hole and people made up their mind about a year and half ago, and once people do that, it is hard to change that.”
Cross said the results show Kentucky has become a truly Republican state, but people will make an exception when they find a Republican rejectable.
While Bevin managed to flip a few counties in his favor, Beshear flipped 11 counties and ran up large margins in Fayette and Jefferson counties — winning those two counties by more than 130,000 votes compared to Conway’s 48,000 margin in 2015.
Beshear’s biggest swings were Kenton (gaining 6,000), Campbell (gaining more than 4,000), Warren (gaining more than 4,000) and Madison (gaining nearly 3,000).
Fugate noted many of those counties were in the suburbs which has been a national trend, but not seen in Kentucky before.
“Is that more related to Bevin,” he questioned, pointing out other candidates did well. “It’s something I’ll be paying attention to in the future and something Republicans need to sure up.”
With the race being decided by less than half a percent, Bevin has requested an official recanvass.
“The people of Kentucky deserve a fair and honest election. With reports of irregularities, we are exercising the right to ensure that every lawful vote was counted,” Bevin's Campaign Manager Davis Paine said in a statement.
Prior to that announcement Wednesday, Cross expected Bevin to ask for either a recanvass or recount.
“It’s not likely to turn up much,” Cross told The Register Wednesday. “It’s very difficult to make up 4,800 votes. Bevin needs to man up and concede. If he wants to pay for recount, that’s fine. That’s his privilege and I don’t begrudge his privilege.”
Josh Douglas, a University of Kentucky law professor, said it would be shocking for a recanvass or recount to change totals by more than 5,000.
As Bevin and his campaign have repeatedly mentioning “voter irregularities,” Douglas called on the governor to provide actual evidence of voter fraud or election irregularities.
“It is dangerous to democracy to undermine the public’s faith in our elections,” Douglas said.
The recanvass is set for Nov. 14 at 9 a.m. at county boards of elections across the state.
In addition to requesting a recanvass, Bevin could contest the election with the legislature. Douglas said a candidate must file a written notice within 30 days after the last action by the State Board of Elections (this year, the last day for the State Board to certify the results is Nov. 25). The legislature would randomly select a committee of 11 members — 8 from the House and 3 from the Senate — to hear the contest. The committee's decision is reported to the full legislature, and a joint session of the legislature would ultimately decide the contest. Douglas added.
Cross said it would be “bad business” for the legislature to entertain the idea on insufficient evidence.
State Senate President Robert Stivers said while it is the governor’s prerogative to request recanvassing or file an application to contest the election, both of those “will have a very high bar to succeed.”
Jonathan Greene is the editor of The Register; follow him on Twitter @jgreeneRR.