Republicans stole a key governor’s seat in a hotly contested race in Kentucky on Tuesday, installing an outsider businessman who has drawn comparisons to Donald Trump as the state’s next chief executive.
Meanwhile, neighboring Ohio voted against becoming the fifth state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana.
In Kentucky, millionaire GOP investor Matt Bevin led state Attorney General Jack Conway (D), 52.5 percent to 44 percent, with 99 percent of precincts reporting. The race, perhaps the most watched in a series of lower-profile races in Tuesday’s off-year elections, has been called for Bevin.
Bevin, who lost a lopsided primary to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) last year, won despite missteps on the campaign trail and an unorthodox campaign that at times alienated key GOP leaders.
The relative political newcomer faced questions about his taxes and jousted repeatedly with local reporters, sometimes blacklisting them and their outlets. Bevin traveled the state in a gold Cadillac Escalade and ran as a self-funding businessman who couldn’t be bought off. For these reasons and more, he drew repeated comparisons to Trump, one of the GOP presidential front-runners.
“I have no favors to pay back. There’s not one person in this state who believes they are going to have a job in my administration. . . . There’s not one person who I’ve promised anything to,” he said last week at a diner, according to The Washington Post’s James Hohmann . “Donald Trump is an interesting fellow. . . . Part of what people appreciate about him is the very same thing. He doesn’t owe anybody anything.”
Republicans made every effort to nationalize the race, tying Conway to the national Democratic Party and, more specifically, to President Obama. The state is heavily Republican at the federal level, but Gov. Steve Beshear (D) has won two elections in recent years and enjoyed relatively strong approval ratings.
Also at issue was the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Bevin said that he would have rejected the federal funds, which many GOP governors have done but which polls show is an unpopular stance. Democrats pilloried him for it, hoping it would be their ticket to victory.
Conway was last seen on the national stage running unsuccessfully against now-Sen. Rand Paul (R) in a key 2010 Senate race. Heading into Tuesday’s contest, Conway was considered a narrow favorite by most election analysts.
“Unfortunately, [Conway] ran into the unexpected head winds of Trump-mania, losing to an outsider candidate in the Year of the Outsider,” Democratic Governors Association Executive Director Elisabeth Pearson said in a statement.
Kentucky was one of several states holding key elections Tuesday. In Mississippi, Gov. Phil Bryant (R) easily won a noncompetitive race against a little-known Democrat, Robert Gray.
The two results mean that Republicans will retain at least 31 of the 50 governor’s seats next year, with Democrats holding 17 and one state, Alaska, with an independent governor.
The GOP will try to gain a 32nd seat in a surprisingly competitive Louisiana race later this month. Republican Sen. David Vitter’s own troubled campaign will attempt to win in another deep-red state in a Nov. 21 runoff against John Bel Edwards (D).
Elsewhere Tuesday, Ohio voters overwhelmingly rejected the legalization of marijuana for recreational use, turning back an effort that would have granted those who invested in the legalization effort, including former boy-band singer Nick Lachey and basketball Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson, the exclusive ability to cultivate marijuana on specific farms. The unique legalization effort split pro-legalization forces, with some worrying that it would create a “marijuana monopoly.”
In Virginia, the state Senate remained under GOP control, preventing Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) from gaining a friendly chamber in the legislature. And in Houston, voters defeated a contentious LGBT nondiscrimination law that opponents painted as being about bathroom access for transgender individuals.