LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Democrat Andy Beshear turned his focus toward transitioning into the Kentucky governor’s office as Republican incumbent Matt Bevin asked for a recanvass of vote totals, one day after election results showed Bevin trailing by several thousand votes.
Beshear, the state’s attorney general, said he’s confident in the election outcome, saying any review would show he won the hard-fought campaign.
“Whatever process that the governor chooses to go down, it’s not going to change this overall number of votes,” Beshear said at a news conference. “We are going to take the steps to move forward to make sure that we are ready … on the day that we’re inaugurated.”
With 100% of precincts reporting, Beshear led by a little over 5,000 votes out of more than 1.4 million counted, or a margin of less than 0.4 percentage points. That’s inside the margin that would trigger a recount in most states, and it’s AP policy not to call races that could go to a recount. Although there is no mandatory recount law in Kentucky, the AP is applying that same standard here.
Bevin’s campaign announced Wednesday afternoon it is asking for a recanvass of vote totals.
Speaking to supporters Tuesday night, Bevin called it a “close, close race” and said he wasn’t conceding “by any stretch.”
“We want the process to be followed, and there is a process,” he said.
Beshear countered Wednesday that the margin “isn’t terribly close.”
Kentucky inaugurates its governors in the December following an election. Beshear — the son of Kentucky’s last Democratic governor, Steve Beshear —named his top deputy in the attorney general’s office, J. Michael Brown, to lead his transition team.
Beshear said the budget proposal he submits to lawmakers in early 2020 will reflect his priorities on public education, health care and infrastructure.
He promised a quick follow-through on some key campaign pledges. Those include appointing new members to the Kentucky Board of Education, rescinding Bevin’s proposed work-related requirements for some Medicaid recipients and restoring voting rights for more than 140,000 nonviolent felons who completed their sentences.
Kentucky has no mandatory recount law. Bevin may request that counties recanvass their results — not a recount, but rather a check of the vote count to ensure the results were added correctly. Bevin would need a court’s approval for a recount.
“The margin is large enough to not have a reasonable expectation that it can be closed with anything outstanding,” Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes’ office said in a statement. “The process laid out by the law will be followed and all candidates do have a recourse to review or challenge their results.”
Grimes, a Democrat, has overseen 20-plus recanvasses during her two terms as secretary of state, her office said. The results never changed significantly enough to flip the outcome of a race, it said.
Bevin won the 2015 GOP primary for governor by just 83 votes. A recanvass confirmed that margin. He noted wryly Tuesday night: “Would it be a Bevin race if it wasn’t a squeaker?”
But the gap is much larger this time. Bevin hinted there might be “irregularities” to look into but didn’t offer specifics. His campaign didn’t respond to an email seeking an explanation. Asked about Bevin’s remark, Beshear said: “I don’t know what information he’s working off of.”
While Bevin wasn’t throwing in the towel, some prominent Kentucky Republicans conceded that Beshear won.
Republican strategist Scott Jennings referred to Beshear as Kentucky’s next governor, wishing him “godspeed” and saying he “ran a good race” in a social media post.
Also on social media, GOP state Rep. Jason Nemes said: “Governor-elect Beshear is entitled to the democratic legitimacy that comes with loser’s consent. So let’s go through the process honorably and expeditiously and give it to him.”
The final hours of campaigning were dominated by Bevin’s endorsement from President Donald Trump at an election eve rally in Lexington, Kentucky.
Trump had loomed large in the race as Bevin stressed his alliance with the Republican president in TV ads, tweets and speeches. Trump carried Kentucky by a landslide in 2016 and remains popular there. The president took center stage in the campaign with an election eve rally to energize his supporters for his fellow Republican.
But the combative Bevin struggled to overcome some self-inflicted wounds, highlighted by a running feud with teachers who opposed his efforts to revamp the state’s woefully underfunded public pension systems.
Bevin lagged well behind the vote totals for the rest of the GOP slate for statewide offices. Republican candidates swept Kentucky’s races for attorney general, secretary of state, auditor, treasurer and agriculture commissioner.
Trump took credit Wednesday for the near sweep, tweeting, “Our big Kentucky Rally on Monday night had a massive impact on all of the races. He claimed that Bevin “picked up at least 15 points in last days, but perhaps not enough (Fake News will blame Trump!).”
Beshear dominated urban areas in Louisville and Lexington and won some traditionally Republican suburban counties in the state’s northernmost tip, just south of Cincinnati, to offset Bevin’s strength in rural areas. Beshear also made inroads in eastern Kentucky, winning several counties in a region where Trump is highly popular.
Beshear maintained his focus throughout the race on “kitchen table” issues like health care and education to blunt Bevin’s efforts to hitch himself to Trump and nationalize the race.
Associated Press reporter Bruce Schreiner wrote this article. The PBS NewsHour produced the video.