If their television ads tell us anything, those for Republican Gov. Matt Bevin and his Democratic opponent, Andy Beshear, provide hints about whom each sees as essential to his campaign hopes.
For Beshear, it’s the state’s public school teachers. He picked one — Jacqueline Coleman — as his running mate after having gone to court to fight a pension law opposed by teachers. Now his television ads — at least the ones I’ve seen in southern Kentucky — are almost exclusively about Bevin’s continued disparagement of teachers. Beshear has also hit Bevin on his plans to make changes to Medicaid but of late it’s been all about teachers.
Bevin argues he’s done more for education funding (a misleading claim if inflation, funding for textbooks and higher education are included) than previous governors and the protestors represent only a small portion of the state’s teachers.
But Bevin continues to help Beshear woo teachers. The Beshear ad which captured my attention contains only video and audio of Bevin bad-mouthing teachers and then saying he regrets nothing he’s said about them — all in his own words.
Bevin never seems to learn. In Boyd County Tuesday, he chastised and patronized a group of protesting teachers across the street from the speaking podium. A Democratic “tracker” (someone who follows a political opponent with a video camera hoping to catch a gaffe on tape to use in ads against that opponent) captured Bevin’s remarks on video which was later distributed by the Kentucky Democratic Party.
In the video, Bevin likens the teachers (who are not shown but can be heard in the background) to children who misbehave and said they were providing a bad example for their students.
“[T]he very behavior you’re exemplifying, any child who acted this way at recess or in your schools, you would not accept it,” Bevin said to the teachers. He then invited teachers to cross the street and “join the conversation.”
But after all the disparaging things Bevin has said about teachers, his championing of the pension bill, an effort by his Labor Secretary David Dickerson to identify which teachers claimed sick days to protest in Frankfort — after all of that, it’s likely the conversation is over for most teachers.
Meanwhile, Bevin is running ads saying under previous Democratic administrations Kentucky moved backward while Bevin has the state moving forward. He, or his surrogates, characterizes Beshear as part of past corruption, pro-abortion, liberal and connected to national Democrats such as Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton and former President Barack Obama.
He then calls himself “pro-life,” saying most Kentuckians are, and calls himself a Christian conservative who is working with President Donald Trump. While Trump’s popularity is plummeting in some parts of the country — nearly half of which now supports his impeachment — Trump remains popular in Kentucky. Bevin is usually pictured with Trump in the White House or boarding Air Force One in these ads to reinforce their presumed friendship.
Bevin has also tried several times to force Beshear to take a position on impeaching Trump, something Beshear — either as Attorney General or as Governor — cannot influence. Knowing Trump is popular here, Beshear has declined the offer, but most Democrats think Trump should be impeached.
Presumably both campaigns’ strategies are based on polling and focus groups indicating what is important to which voters. But sometimes poll respondents say one thing and do another in the privacy of the voting booth.
Last year, teachers promised to “Remember in November” while lawmakers debated the pension bill teachers find so odious — but after the November elections, Republicans had lost only two seats. So will teachers turn out this time in numbers large enough with enough favoring Beshear to make a difference?
And Bevin who is rated the most unpopular governor in the country by a Morning Consult poll has tied his wagon to Trump just as public opinion seems beginning to turn on Trump. But will that change be felt in Kentucky?
Ronnie Ellis is the former statehouse reporter for CNHI Kentucky and now writes a weekly column. Follow him on Twitter @cnhifrankfort.