Tags: Tea Party | Matt Bevin | john gizzi | kentucky | tea party | governor

Tea Party Alive and Kicking After Kentucky Cliffhanger

By Wednesday, 20 May 2015 06:33 AM Current | Bio | Archive

At a time when many pundits were concluding that the "tea party" movement had run out of steam, a favorite of the conservative, grass-roots movement demonstrated Tuesday in Kentucky that rumors of its demise may be greatly exaggerated.

A year after he was soundly defeated in his nationally watched primary challenge to Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, Louisville businessman and "tea party" favorite Matt Bevin was the apparent winner of the Republican nomination for governor in Kentucky’s closest-ever statewide primary.

In topping a four-candidate race by 83 votes out of more than 214,000 cast, Bevin overcame two well-known contenders who had heavily outspent him. Second-place (33 percent) finisher and State Agriculture Commissioner James Comer had already won statewide office before, and multimillionaire real estate developer Hal Heiner placed third (29 percent) after spending nearly $4 million of his own fortune on the campaign. Rounding out the race was retired State Supreme Court Justice Will T. Scott with 7 percent.

"But Hal Heiner’s negative campaign really hurt James Comer and Hal Heiner himself," State Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer told Newsmax as the votes were coming in. "In many of the counties that [Comer] won, Matt Bevin was finishing second."

Discussion of whether Heiner hit fellow "establishment" Republican Comer especially hard and possibly below the belt dominated the campaign in its twilight days. For weeks, Comer had been defending himself against charges that he had physically and verbally abused a onetime girlfriend when they were college students.

Heiner strongly denied he had anything to do with the charges, but Comer’s campaign insisted there was a tie between Heiner’s lieutenant governor running mate and the blogger who had been pushing the abuse story against Comer.

"Hal’s complete fabrication about his involvement in this story is just — it really is creating a backlash," former Rep. Anne Northup, a Comer supporter, told reporters.

In strong contrast, Bevin ran spots with actors playing Comer and Heiner as children having a "food fight" and vowing to provide "grown-up" leadership for the Bluegrass State. On television and in campaign appearances, he emphasized several tea party-favored "red meat" issues: supporting school choice and vowing to fight Common Core federal educational standards; denouncing federal government regulations; and promising a crusade to make Kentucky a right-to-work state.

Underscoring what Thayer called "a flawless TV campaign by Matt Bevins" was the candidates' emphasis on his background as head of a manufacturing company, his service as a U.S. Army officer and his nine children (four of whom were adopted from Ethiopia).

Bevin further burnished his conservative credentials by tapping a fellow tea partier as his lieutenant governor running mate: U.S. Air Force veteran Jenean Hampton, who, if elected in November, would be Kentucky’s first-ever statewide officeholder who is black.

Given the closeness of the final votes separating Bevin from Comer, the secretary of state's office will conduct a recanvass of votes in the next few days. But few doubt that this will change the outcome. Both Heiner and Scott called Bevin to concede on Tuesday night, and Comer told supporters that if the recount does not go his way, he will support Bevin.

Earlier this month, a SurveyUSA poll of likely voters statewide showed Democratic gubernatorial nominee and State Attorney General Jack Conway defeating Bevin 48 percent to 37 percent.

For now, a year after pundits and pols wrote him off as a gadfly following his defeat by McConnell, Bevin has managed one of the most spectacular political rebounds in his state's modern history.

About the closest thing to it was the close GOP gubernatorial race of the late 1960s: 1967, when Jefferson County (Louisville) Judge Marlow Cook lost 51 percent to 49 percent to Louie Nunn, who went on to win the governorship that year. In 1968, Cook returned and won a vacant Senate seat.

Whether Matt Bevin can manage a similar accomplishment by winning the governorship a year after he lost a Senate primary will surely be one of the most-watched political stories of 2015.

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.

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At a time when many pundits were concluding that the "tea party" movement had run out of steam, a favorite of the conservative, grass-roots movement demonstrated Tuesday in Kentucky that rumors of its demise may be greatly exaggerated.
Matt Bevin, john gizzi, kentucky, tea party, governor
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2015-33-20
Wednesday, 20 May 2015 06:33 AM
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