One year after Senator Mitch McConnell soundly thumped him in the 2014 Kentucky Republican U.S. Senate primary, Louisville businessman Matt Bevin has apparently mounted a spectacular comeback. With all precincts reporting, Bevin leads Agriculture Commissioner James Comer by a whopping 83 votes in the primary to be the party’s nominee for governor.
While Comer has called for a “recanvass” of votes, most political pundits in the state are calling Bevin the likely victor. Bevin himself claimed victory late Tuesday night.
“For those of you in the media who thought Republican politics in the state of Kentucky was boring, think again,” Bevin said late Tuesday night to his supporters at an event in Louisville.
On the campaign trail Bevin hit hard in support of Tea Party ideas, calling for the repeal of Common Core and the closing of Kentucky’s Obamacare state health care exchange.
Bevin benefited from strong Tea Party support, a holdover from his Senate race a year earlier, in which he was endorsed by a loose coalition of more than a dozen of the leading Tea Party groups in the state.
Bevin also made a smart strategic move early on, adding Jenean Hampton, leader of the Bowling Green Tea Party, to his ticket as his running mate for Lieutenant Governor. Hampton, a veteran, would be the first African-American woman to serve as Lieutenant Governor of Kentucky if elected with Bevin in the November general election.
An engaging and energetic candidate in her own right, Hampton may have helped put Bevin over the top.
The final vote tally showed Bevin with 70,479 votes (32.9 percent), Comer with 70,396 votes (32 percent), Hal Heiner with 57,948 votes (27.1 percent) and Will T. Scott with 15,364 votes (7.2 percent).
In the Democratic primary for Governor, Attorney General Jack Conway defeated opponent Geoff Young easily, 78 percent to 21 percednt.
In the Secretary of State Democratic primary, incumbent Alison Lundergan Grimes, who lost one of the most expensive U.S. Senate races in history this past November to McConnell, was also renominated handily.
According to Kentucky election law “recounts” are not automatically triggered in close races.
Instead, any candidate has the right to call for a “recanvass,” which differs from the more comprehensive “recount.”
As the Louisville Courier-Journal reported:
A recanvass is essentially a review of the vote totals in each county. County clerks will review the absentee votes and check the printouts to make sure the numbers were correct when they were transmitted to the State Board of Elections
State law allows for re-canvassing only if a county clerk or a county board of elections notices a discrepancy or if a candidate makes a written request to the secretary of state.
Comer said late Tuesday that he would ask for a recanvass, and if he gains votes in it, Comer said he may ask for a “full-fledged recount.” A recount is a more elaborate procedure that can only be ordered by a circuit court judge and includes an actual examination of the ballots.
Under state law, Comer has until 4 p.m. May 26 to request the recanvass, which would be conducted at 9 a.m. on May 28. He would then have until the next day to ask a Franklin Circuit judge to order a recount.
Both of Bevin’s Republican leading primary opponents indicated they would support him in the general election against Conway if his primary victory is confirmed.
“Heiner said that he would back Bevin, and Comer said that if his recanvass fails, he will campaign door to door with him,” the Louisville Courier-Journal reported.
In the November general election against Conway, Bevin may face an uphill battle.
Before the primary results were known, Conway told the Louisville Courier-Journal Bevin was the candidate he preferred to run against.
General election polls showed Conway with a lead over all three of the leading Republican primary candidates. The most recent poll showed Conway leading Bevin 42 percent to 36 percent.
Bevin and his allies believe a 6 percent deficit to Conway this far out from the November election will be easily surmountable. For them, Bevin’s grassroots support may have the same effect in the general election it had in the primary.