Recent polling suggests the race for Kentucky governor between incumbent Republican Matt Bevin and Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear is a toss-up. Both campaigns are stepping up their ground game one week from election day.
On a Saturday morning in October, a group of Warren County residents assembled in the old Pushin Building in downtown Bowling Green.
“Thank you all for coming," said Cody Pruitt, a Regional Field Director for the state's Democrats. "If this is your first time coming, this is the field office for the Kentucky Democratic Party and Andy Beshear.”
Over coffee and doughnuts, Pruitt rallied the troops before they fanned out across Warren County for some old-fashioned door knocking. Their goal: persuade voters to turn out for Democratic candidates on Nov. 5.
“We are 17 days away from the election and your all’s help is major," Pruitt said.
Volunteer Lisa Goldy headed over to Magnolia Street to pound the pavement and stir up some support. She held a clipboard and checked off names as she visited each house.
“We’re hoping for a 28-year-old by the name of Jennifer," Goldy said as she knocked on a door.
"Hi, is Jennifer here?," she asked.
"No, she’s gone somewhere and we’re babysitting," said the homeowner's father.
“My name is Lisa and I’m out canvassing for Andy Beshear. Are you a registered voter here in Kentucky?," asked Goldy.
"Yes, I’m for Beshear. Anything to get Bevin out of there," came the response.
The Democratic Party began knocking on doors in July with a goal of reaching 1 million households before the election. As of Oct. 28, volunteers had reached more than 800,000 doors. Goldy, a school psychologist, said she believes her efforts will bear fruit.
"It really does make a difference and shows that candidates care about each and every voter," she said.
Beshear’s campaign predicts the canvassing will add three to five percentage points to his share of the vote next week.
A ground game is important in a close race such as this. A survey released this month by Mason-Dixon Polling and Research had Bevin and Beshear tied with 46% support among likely voters, all the more reason to hustle for Chris McCoy. The Warren County educator has spent the past ten weekends knocking doors for Beshear.
"I’ve run into a couple of Republican teachers today and I told them sometimes you have to put party politics aside, and vote for the guy that’s going to be the best for educators," McCoy said.
McCoy sees Beshear as the best candidate to fix Kentucky’s under-funded pension system, a system he invests in. He's also offended by Bevin's rhetoric toward educators.
McCoy makes a follow-up visit to a home on Loving Way. The knock on the door prompts a dog to bark and brings the homeowner to the door.
“Hi, how are you?," asked McCoy. "We’re out campaigning for Andy Beshear. I stopped by here about four weeks ago and, I guess your wife, said you were on the fence. It’s been a month and I haven’t forgotten about you. Wanted to come back and see if you’re still on the fence."
"Yeah, we’re still talking over what we like," replied the homeowner.
The Republican Party of Kentucky declined multiple requests to be interviewed for this report. "We’re not going to get into discussing strategy, operations or tactics on the record," said RPK Communications Director Mike Lonergan in an emailed statement to WKU Public Radio.
"They have a ground game," said Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky. “My guess is the Republicans have had a harder time getting volunteers than the Democrats because there’s not a lot of love in the Republican party for Matt Bevin.”
Bevin has seen his popularity plummet after clashing with Kentucky lawmakers, state employees, teachers, and the media.
He got 52% of the vote in May’s four-way Republican primary, and lost about 30 counties in eastern Kentucky to Robert Goforth, a little-known state lawmaker. However, recent polling shows Bevin's support among registered Republicans has increased ten percentage points since the end of last year.
While it’s hard to quantify how much grassroots support Bevin has, the Republican National Committee is spending money on get-out-the-vote efforts in Kentucky.
Governor Bevin is also getting boost from Susan B. Anthony’s List. The anti-abortion group says it’s the first time they’ve endorsed a candidate in a statewide race. The group is also knocking on doors and placing social media ads in support of Bevin.
President Trump will return to Kentucky on Monday, Nov. 4, the night before election day. He'll hold a rally in support of Bevin at Rupp Arena in Lexington. Vice President Mike Pence will do a bus tour through Eastern Kentucky on Friday, Nov. 1.
A well-coordinated ground game is also important when turnout is expected to be low. Just 30.6% of registered voters cast ballots in the 2015 statewide election. That means Matt Bevin was elected governor by just over 16 percent of Kentuckians who were eligible to vote.