Kentucky's electorate shocked the political world on Tuesday night, picking Matt Bevin as its next governor -- and only its second Republican governor since 1971. How did Bevin do it? And what kind of governor might he be? I reached out to Sam Youngman, a political reporter at the Lexington Herald-Leader for answers to all of those questions and more. Our conversation, conducted via e-mail late Tuesday night, is below -- edited only for grammar and flow.
FIX: Matt Bevin won. Describe what sort of campaign he ran.
Sam: While the margin of victory would suggest otherwise, Bevin didn't run a great campaign by any stretch of the imagination. He gave his opponents endless fodder for ads, raised very little money compared to Jack Conway and repeatedly poked the state's two Republican U.S. Senators in the eyes even as they were trying to help him.
Obviously, none of that mattered. We knew all along it was a toxic environment for Democrats, and the results of last year's U.S. Senate race were clearly a harbinger of a state on the verge of turning completely red.
But Bevin ran as an outsider, against a career politician, and that was more than enough.
And to his credit, he was a relentless campaigner. After he lost to McConnell last year, Bevin never really stopped campaigning, showing up at county Lincoln Day dinners. While Conway ran a race that was focused entirely on fundraising and TV ads, Bevin hit the road.
FIX: The Republican Governors Association pulled out of the race then came back in over the last 2 weeks. Why did they leave — and why did they come back?
Sam: The RGA seemed frustrated that Bevin, who self-funded his U.S. Senate race and gubernatorial primary run, wasn't injecting any of his personal funds into the race. They wanted to help Bevin, but it also appeared that they wanted to see evidence that he was willing to put some skin in the game.
It looked like a staring contest in which the RGA ultimately blinked. I think they came back for a couple of reasons. First, they had polling that showed Conway leading but in a very close race. They certainly couldn't afford to get caught sitting on the sidelines if Bevin lost by a few thousand votes.
I also think [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell was vocal in encouraging them to get back to Kentucky. While it was a data-driven decision, it never hurts to have the U.S. Senate Majority Leader making those kinds of calls on your behalf.
FIX: Was there an issue (or two) that Bevin capitalized on or that hurt Conway?
Sam: I think Bevin was able to capitalize on the environment more than anything. When we first saw polling that showed Kentuckians split on whether Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis should issue marriage licenses to all couples, it looked as though Bevin might have overplayed his hand by rushing to her defense.
But it seems we let the polling blind us to the socially conservative realities of the state. Combine that with an advertising effort that painted Conway as a rubber stamp for President Obama in a state where the president's approval numbers hover around 30 percent, and the stars were aligned for the Republicans Tuesday.
I think Bevin's best asset -- and this should be noted in the context of next year's national races -- was that he was not a politician. I know, I know. Yes, he ran for the Senate just last year, but he was viewed as an outsider and a businessman. And at least right now, that certainly seems to be a winning combination.
FIX: Bevin challenged McConnell, the godfather of Kentucky Republican politics, in a primary in 2014. Now Bevin is McConnell’s governor. What’s that relationship like? And what does it look like going forward?
Sam: This might be the most interesting dynamic moving forward. Tuesday night was Mitch McConnell's dream coming true -- the beginning of the end of the two-party system in Kentucky.
McConnell has long envisioned a Kentucky that is ruby red, and now only the Democratic-controlled statehouse is left to conquer. But while they played nice publicly, it's hard to imagine that Bevin and McConnell are going to be good buddies going forward.
They obviously have very different styles and philosophies, so how they work together moving forward is anybody's guess.
I will say that McConnell wants to flip the statehouse badly. I'd say as long as Bevin makes that his goal too -- and doesn't do anything as governor that could hurt those chances -- the two of them will get along just fine.
FIX: What sort of governor will Bevin be? Is there a proposal (or two) that he will push hard? And what are the chances of that proposal getting through the Democratic legislature?
Sam: It has always seemed to me that Bevin's top priority for the state was passing right-to-work legislation, and I would imagine he'll make that an early mission.
But the biggest question to me will be how he chooses to address health care here. Bevin was adamant in February that he wanted to reverse Gov. Steve Beshear's (D) executive order that expanded Medicaid to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.
With more than 400,000 Kentuckians having signed up, that position was untenable in the general election, and Bevin repeatedly tried to walk it back.
He never hedged, however, on his pledge to shutdown Kynect, the state's health care exchange, and transfer those who signed up to the federal exchange.
After two years of being hailed as the nation's gold standard for "Obamacare" implementation, we might be about to find out how it looks when a state goes 180-degrees in the other direction.