Matt Bevin has shown a cavalier attitude to facts as he confronts Democrat Andy Beshears challenge but his anti-abortion stance could serve him well

It was a perfectly Trumpian moment for one of Americas most Trumpian governors.

Kentuckys attorney general, Andy Beshear, had just accused the Republican governor, Matt Bevin, of lying in a debate last week, saying: This is just more of the same from a governor who says that someone commits suicide on a casino floor every night.

Ive never said anything like that in my life, Bevin shot back at his Democratic challenger for the governors seat.

Its all on tape! responded a flabbergasted Beshear as Bevin continued his denials.

Of course, there is a tape: the governors comments that people kill themselves in casinos though, not specifically casino floors were made without proof in July and helped fuel Kentuckys election news cycle for a few days. But Bevin appears to have taken a lesson from the president on the art of denial.

With a disapproval rating of 53%, Bevin is currently ranked the second-least popular governor in the country according to Morning Consult and for much of the year, he was the least popular. But despite that unpopularity largely driven by his combative personality and repeated attacks on public school teachers theres a fairly good chance hes about to win re-election on 5 November.

I think the odds are in his favour because the political landscape tilts in his direction, said Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky. This is a socially conservative state and hes a social conservative. Its a pro-Trump state and hes wrapped himself around Trump. And he has presided over a good economy for most of the state.

A Mason-Dixon poll earlier this month showed Bevin in a dead heat with Beshear, Kentuckys attorney general, with each candidate polling at 46%.

In Kentucky, conservative voters are faced with a choice that Republicans around the country will have to make in 12 months: will they vote for an incumbent despite what is seen as an off-putting personality? Do party power and policy outweigh everything else?

Like Trump, Bevins words have gotten him into trouble. When public school teachers protested against controversial pension reform efforts, Bevin said the strike would result in children left at home without supervision being sexually assaulted and ingesting poison. Later, he blamed the accidental shooting of a seven-year-old girl by her 11-year-old brother on teachers who were protesting that day, leaving schools closed. He said those protesting against pension reform had a thug mentality.

Primaried by Republican challengers earlier this year, he secured his partys nomination with just 52% of the vote, losing large swaths of the state.

In a state where Trump carried more than 60% of the vote in 2016 and every county except for the homes of the two biggest cities, Bevin has anchored himself to the president, portraying the gubernatorial election as part of a larger national battle.

Andy Beshear makes his pitch on education next to his running mate Jacqueline Coleman. Teachers could be a key constituency in the gubernatorial election. Photograph: Bac Totrong/AP

He has started calling his opponent Lil Andy seemingly inspired by Trumps taunts against Lil Marco Rubio during the presidential primaries and the Hunter Biden of Kentucky. Bevins television ads prominently feature images of the governor with the president.

One Bevin ad that has been popping up on Facebook tells voters to back Bevin to show support for Trump, saying: Radical liberals in Washington are only focused on one thing: impeaching President Trump. Vote for Matt Bevin on Nov. 5 to send them a message!

Republican strategist Scott Jennings says the push to impeach Trump is pushing Americans into partisan corners and that could work to Bevins advantage.

Im not sure if impeachment is good for the country, but it might be good for Matt Bevin in this particular campaign, he said.

Trump has endorsed Bevin and is scheduled to hold a rally for the governor in Kentucky on the eve of the election.

While Bevin has tried to nationalise the race, Beshear has tried to keep the focus local while being careful not to alienate Republicans who could land on his side.

Beshear, 41, is not exactly the kind of candidate that would inspire enthusiasm among the Democratic partys increasingly progressive base elsewhere in the country. He is the son of Kentuckys last governor before Bevin, Steve Beshear. He tends to avoid criticising Trump, refusing to call the presidents tweet telling four minority congresswomen to go back to their ancestral homelands racist and has remained silent on impeachment. One of his TV ads even features Trump supporters.

If he does win, it could well be due to Bevins antagonism towards the states educators and Beshears embrace of them.

Beshear has made teachers a focal point of his campaign. He constantly rails against Bevins bullying of educators and promised that he would never bully fellow Kentuckians if elected. For a running mate, he tapped Jacqueline Coleman, a public high school assistant principal who was formerly a social studies teacher and basketball coach.

Volunteers from 120 Strong, a grassroots advocacy group initially formed by education employees to oppose pension reform and claims 40,000 members, have been campaigning for Beshear across the state.

This is not about Team Democrat or Team Republican, said Nema Brewer, a public school district employee who is a co-founder and leader of the group. Thats just the way it has to be. We all have to shed our political affiliations and do the right thing here and get a foot off our throat.

Matt Bevin has sought to tie himself to Trump, including by denouncing moves to impeach the president. Photograph: Bruce Schreiner/AP

Though many Republicans may be put off by Bevins demeanour and treatment of educators, there will be Christian conservatives among them who cast ballots for the governor as many did for Trump simply because of his stance on abortion.

Bevin publicly embraces faith. He has touted himself as Americas most pro-life governor while attacking Beshear, who supports Roe v Wade, as taking blood money from abortion providers to fund his campaign and choosing the side of death over life.

With 57% of Kentucky adults saying that abortion should be illegal in all or most cases according to a 2014 Pew Research Center poll, Bevins hard push on abortion and faith could pay off.

Its one of the reasons that a Republican who was lukewarm on Bevin or didnt vote for him in the primary might go home in November: its because at the end of the day, they dont want to vote for a pro-abortion liberal Democrat, said Jennings, the Republican strategist. You can look past your quibbles with someone on their communications style if you know theyre going to protect life. Its a huge issue for Kentucky voters.

One such voter is Vince Stover, the pastor of the Bible Pathway Baptist church in Lexington. He says he is deeply disappointed with Bevin, particularly with his attacks on teachers and political opponents. But Stover plans to reluctantly vote for Bevin next week due to the governors anti-abortion stance.

Its an important enough issue for me that thats what it comes down to, he said. There are other things I find important, but not to the same level as that. I can overlook disagreements on other things more than I can overlook abortion.



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