Some in GOP Warn Against Election Challenge in Kentucky

Nov 7, 2019

Attorney General Andy Beshear (left) and Gov. Matt Bevin
Credit J. Tyler Franklin

Some Kentucky Republicans are warning Gov. Matt Bevin against challenging the election results in his bid for a second term unless he finds evidence of massive fraud.

U.S. Rep. James Comer, who lost to Bevin by 83 votes in the 2015 GOP gubernatorial primary, is among several Republicans suggesting that Bevin may need to accept the election results rather than initiate a bloody fight that could end up in the Republican-controlled legislature. Bevin trails by more than 5,000 votes to Democrat Andy Beshear, out of more than 1.4 million votes cast.

The comments may be an early indication that leaders of Bevin's own party may not have the appetite to sustain a lengthy challenge.

Comer said Bevin's request for a recanvass of Tuesday's vote count is understandable. Beshear's margin over Bevin is less than 0.4 percentage points.

But without proof of massive fraud or irregularities, Comer warned about the signal it would send if Bevin, formally contested the election after the recanvass, putting the outcome in the hands of state lawmakers.

"If the Republicans in the (state) General Assembly tried to undo an election, that's kind of what we've been criticizing the Democrats in Washington of trying to do with this baseless impeachment inquiry," Comer said in a phone interview.

In a radio interview Thursday, GOP state Rep. Jason Nemes agreed the recanvass is appropriate but said an election contest isn't appropriate without proof of fraud sufficient to reverse the outcome.

"You have to show, in order to overturn an election, that you have the goods," he said on WHAS-AM. "And it doesn't look like we have them."

Nemes, a Bevin supporter, later added: "The proper thing to do is to concede, recognize that we've lost and give Gov.-elect Beshear our support. That's what our institutions demand. We don't want to delegitimize his victory. It's not appropriate. The people have spoken and let's move on."

Kentucky's Republican establishment is watching Bevin's post-election strategy closely. The wealthy businessman ran as a political outsider, losing to now-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the 2014 Senate primary and winning the governorship a year later. Bevin is an ally of President Donald Trump, who made an election-eve appearance in Kentucky.

Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes has scheduled a recanvass for Nov. 14 to verify the vote count.

Grimes, a Democrat, has overseen 20-plus recanvasses during two terms as secretary of state, her office said. The results never flipped a race's outcome. Comer noted that the recanvass of his 2015 primary election against Bevin didn't change a single vote.

Under state law, Bevin has 30 days to formally contest the outcome once it's certified by the State Board of Elections. The elections board is scheduled to meet Nov. 21 to certify Tuesday's results. The last contested governor's race in Kentucky was the 1899 election of Democrat William Goebel.

The Associated Press has not declared a winner in Tuesday's race, in keeping with its policy not to call races that could go to a recount. Kentucky's recount law, however, does not apply to a governor's election, Grimes' office said. Bevin's next recourse following the recanvass would be to formally contest the election.

Comer said Kentucky voters "spoke pretty loud and clear with the way the rest of the (GOP) ticket ran versus how Bevin ran."

Bevin lagged well behind the vote totals for the rest of the GOP statewide candidates. Republican candidates swept Kentucky's races for attorney general, secretary of state, auditor, treasurer and agriculture commissioner.

The governor's race turned into a "personality contest," Comer said, adding: "In Kentucky, it's always been my experience that people won't vote for you if they don't like you."

The other outcomes showed Kentucky is still ruby red, he said.

"It had nothing to do with Trump, had nothing to do with the suburbs," the congressman said. "It's not a reflection on Mitch McConnell. It was just a personality clash with a lot of voters in the commonwealth of Kentucky."

Meanwhile, Republican leaders of both legislative chambers have acknowledged that lawmakers could be asked to decide the race.

"If he (Bevin) chooses to file a formal election contest, the House Majority Caucus will handle the matter in a legal, ethical, and appropriate manner that fulfills the requirements set forth by the Kentucky Constitution, statute and rules of the House," House Speaker David Osborne said in a statement Thursday.

Senate President Robert Stivers told reporters Tuesday night that the process would be "fair and follow the law." Before the election, Stivers' staff started researching the process for an election contest.

Bevin said Wednesday that his team is gathering evidence of "irregularities" in the voting. The governor claimed that thousands of absentee ballots may have been illegally counted. He also suggested that people may have been improperly turned away from the polls. He offered no specifics.

He said his team is gathering affidavits, but any information turned up won't be "followed through on" until after the recanvass — an indication he could seek further review of the election results.

Beshear, the state's attorney general, said he's confident in the election outcome and has started forming his transition team in preparing to become governor in December.

On Election Day, his office received 82 calls on an election fraud hotline. That's down significantly from general elections in 2016 and 2018. Deputy Attorney General J. Michael Brown, who is leading Beshear's transition team, says "we have not received any information regarding the referenced irregularities."

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Associated Press Writer Rebecca Reynolds Yonker contributed to this report in Louisville, Kentucky.