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Democrat Andy Beshear declares victory in tight Kentucky governor's race

Andy Beshear addresses supporters in Kentucky
Democrat Andy Beshear addresses supporters as he holds narrow lead in Kentucky governor race 18:34

Returns showed Democrat Andy Beshear leading in Kentucky's tight governor's election against incumbent Governor Matt Bevin late Tuesday, a race watched closely by the White House and the Trump campaign. The president and vice president each campaigned with Bevin in in the closing days of the campaign to give him a boost. 

While Beshear declared victory over Bevin, the governor told supporters he wasn't conceding. On Wednesday afternoon, his campaign announced they're requesting a formal recanvass, which is different from a recount.

"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 campaign manager Davis Paine said in a statement. 

With 100% of precincts reporting, Beshear had a lead of 5,333 votes out of more than 1.4 million counted Tuesday night, or a margin of nearly 0.4 percentage points, The Associated Press reported.

"Tonight, voters in Kentucky sent a message loud and clear for everyone to hear," Beshear, currently the state's attorney general, told supporters in Louisville. "It's a message that says our elections don't have to be about right versus left — they are still about right versus wrong."

"I haven't had an opportunity yet to speak to Governor Bevin," Beshear added. "But my expectation is that he will honor the election that was held tonight."

Andy Beshear
Andy Beshear celebrates with supporters after voting results showed the Democrat holding a slim lead over Republican Governor Matt Bevin at C2 Event Venue on Tuesday, November 5, 2019, in Louisville, Kentucky. Getty

But at his own event, Bevin said, "We are not conceding this race by any stretch, not a chance." 

"Understand this though, we want the process to be followed and there is a process," he said. "We know for a fact that there have been more than a few irregularities, they are very well corroborated and that's alright. What they are exactly, how many, which ones and what effect if any they'll have, will be determined according to law, that's well established."

Bevin had tried to capitalize on Mr. Trump's popularity in the state. The president warned voters on Monday that the race could be seen as a bellwether were Beshear to win, telling rally-goers that a Bevin loss would send "a really bad message."

"If you lose, they're going to say, 'Trump suffered the greatest defeat in the history of the world,'" Mr. Trump said at the rally. "'This was the greatest.' You can't let that happen to me!"

Vice President Pence also campaigned with Bevin across the southern portion of the state the weekend before Election Day.

Down ballot, other Republicans performed well. That includes Daniel Cameron, who was elected as the state's attorney general, and Allison Ball, who became the first Republican and first woman to be re-elected as the state's treasurer. 

Mr. Trump's 2020 campaign manager, Brad Parscale, championed the down-ballot victories Tuesday night. "President Trump's rally helped five of six Kentucky Republicans win clear statewide victories, including Attorney General-elect Daniel Cameron, who will be the first black A.G. in Kentucky history and the first Republican to hold the office since 1948," Parscale said in a statement.

"The President just about dragged Gov. Matt Bevin across the finish line, helping him run stronger than expected in what turned into a very close race at the end," the statement added. "A final outcome remains to be seen."

Mr. Trump also weighed in on Twitter, writing, "Won 5 out of 6 elections in Kentucky, including 5 great candidates that I spoke for and introduced last night @MattBevin picked up at least 15 points in last days, but perhaps not enough (Fake News will blame Trump!). Winning in Mississippi Governor race!" 

In his post-election remarks, Bevin also brought up his GOP primary victory in 2015, which he won by only 83 votes.

"The process will be followed and in the end we will have the governor that was chosen by the people of Kentucky. ... I haven't had that many races here but I've had some cliffhangers. This is another one. This is another cliffhanger and let's see what happens."

The vote came after a contentious race. In the last months of the campaign, Bevin leaned heavily on social issues, including abortion and gun rights, while also touting the state's strong economy. He also stuck close to President Trump, who won the state by 30 points in 2016 and held a rally in Lexington on Monday in hopes of helping Bevin across the finish line. 

Kentucky's Secretary of State office said turnout overall was close to 36 to 37%, higher than their projected 31%.

In recent years, Bevin struggled to gain the affection of voters and had approval ratings far below those of the president in the state. 

Kentucky has a history of electing Democratic governors, even as it regularly sends Republicans to Washington. In 2007, Kentuckians elected Andy Beshear's father, Steve Beshear, who won again in 2011.

Kentucky law prevented governors from running for re-election until 1992. Since then, no Republican has been elected to a second term, despite the fact that the state is dominated by Republicans in its federal offices and hasn't voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1996. 

In 2015, Bevin beat his Democratic opponent in a surprise landslide, with voters decisively breaking his way in the week before Election Day. It was something of a comeback win for Bevin, a millionaire businessman who had never held elected office but who had tried to beat Senator Mitch McConnell in the 2014 Republican primary. McConnell won that race by nearly 40 points. 

But this time, Bevin had to deal with sky-high disapproval ratings. He was the most unpopular governor in the nation for the most of the summer, according to Morning Consult, and had multiple spats with teachers over their pension fund. 

National Democrats encouraged Beshear, the state's attorney general, to take on Bevin by building off the support of teachers and state workers. According to Robert Goe, a former Republican candidate for state representative, Beshear's strength among public sector workers helped keep Beshear competitive. 

Beshear thanked the educators that supported him on Tuesday night. "To our educators, your courage to stand up and fight up against all the bullying and name calling helped galvanize our entire state," he said. 

Bevin fought back by appealing to Kentucky's conservative values. "Every candidate on this side, pro-life, pro-Second Amendment, pro-president, pro-America, pro-working class individual. On the other side, the same is just not true," Bevin said a Saturday event in Clark County. "Vote your values and not your party."

Beshear, meanwhile, said repeatedly that he supports abortion rights and accused Bevin of opposing the procedure even in cases of rape or incest. 

But Democrats in Kentucky mostly framed Tuesday's vote as a referendum on Bevin and focused on local issues such as education and health care. At the recent Carl D. Perkins Memorial Breakfast in Pike County, in the heart of the state's coal country, Beshear said the state cannot "survive another four years of Matt Bevin."

"You all know what's on the line. The future of education because it doesn't survive another four years under Matt Bevin. The future of rural health care because it doesn't survive another four years under Matt Bevin. We've got a governor that brags about prosperity, but do you see it right here?"

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