There’s always peril to writing a column and affixing one’s name to it in advance of its publication. Events can change and render the column obsolete and sometimes seem misinformed. That can be especially true when a weekend column is due to editors by mid-day Thursday for weekend publication.
But trying to stay up to date during a campaign for governor at the same time the president appears headed for impeachment and the country perhaps about to face a constitutional crisis is near impossible. Especially in the Trump affair, events and new information seem to occur nearly every hour.
From what I can tell, not much has changed in the governor’s race. I’ve seen no public polling but I’m told both campaigns’ internal polling shows the race is tight. Of course, each side claims that polling shows it in the lead.
It’s an unusual race which doesn’t seem to conform to traditional campaign “rules.” An incumbent Republican governor like Matt Bevin should have little trouble winning re-election in an increasingly red state where President Trump remains highly popular. On top of that, his opponent is the son of the last Democratic governor as well as the current attorney general. Both provide Bevin some information which he can — and does — use against Andy Beshear.
But by all accounts, the race is close and there are indications that Bevin may be struggling to put Beshear away. First are those polls. We are still wondering if teachers will come out in force against Bevin who has disparaged those who protested proposed changes to their pensions. Bevin tried to make a distinction between teachers who called in sick to come to Frankfort to protest and those who did not, saying repeatedly some of his immediate family are teachers.
It’s not working. And the best attack ad I’ve seen is the one on behalf of Beshear, which consists of nothing but Bevin disparaging teachers. There’s no narrator; no “headlines;” just video of Bevin accusing teachers (in his own words) of putting their interests above the children’s and worse.
Meanwhile, Bevin’s ads hit Beshear on abortion, straining to connect Beshear to pro-abortion groups who fund Planned Parenthood which then endorsed Beshear. It may be a stretch, but Beshear in fact does “support a woman’s right to choose” and is supported by pro-abortion groups. This is always effective for Republicans in Kentucky, but in fact, there’s little a governor or an individual state legislator can do to affect the issue long term. That will ultimately be decided by the courts — or by a seismic change of mind by one side or the other, something which isn’t going to happen anytime soon.
Bevin has yet to fire his biggest bullet, however — Donald Trump who has promised to campaign for Bevin in Kentucky at least once and perhaps in two visits. Trump enjoys a net plus-15 point approval rating in Kentucky and his visit last year carried Republican Congressman Andy Barr to re-election in a tight race in which he was thought to be trailing right up until the end. Bevin no doubt hopes Trump can do the same for him.
Trump has mounting troubles of his own. I hear Trump supporters and cynics say impeachment is a waste because there is no way a Republican Senate will vote to convict. Since conviction also requires a super majority, they are likely right. But a word of caution from one who lived through Watergate. At this point in that crisis, public opinion was mostly in Nixon’s favor. The latest polling indicates about half the country today supports impeaching Trump.
And one has to wonder, as more witnesses traipse before congressional committees how long will it take for an Alexander Butterfield or John Dean to stun the public and public opinion swings strongly behind impeachment. Those Republican senators may think differently if that happens — just as some of did during Watergate.
Ronnie Ellis is the former statehouse reporter for CNHI Kentucky and writes a weekly column. Follow him on Twitter @cnhifrankfort.