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Kentucky Gov. Bevin clears first hurdle, wins GOP primary

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin cleared his first hurdle toward a second term, defeating three Republican challengers Tuesday to advance to a tougher fall campaign where his Democratic challenger will try to bludgeon him for his high-profile feuding with public school teachers.

While Bevin claimed the nomination in GOP-leaning Kentucky, an upstart challenger — state Rep. Robert Goforth — attracted a sizeable share of the vote in a sign the incumbent has fence mending to do with his political base. Bevin got a last-minute boost from President Donald Trump.

Three prominent Democrats — Attorney General Andy Beshear, former state auditor Adam Edelen and longtime lawmaker Rocky Adkins — were vying for the chance to challenge Bevin in the fall. Beshear’s father is a former two-term governor who preceded Bevin in office.

Adkins took an early lead, piling up advantages in rural counties. The top Democrat in the GOP-dominated Kentucky House portrayed himself as a moderate with the pedigree to win back Democrats who have strayed to support the GOP.

Trump waded into the Kentucky GOP primary by tweeting his support for Bevin and recording a phone message urging GOP voters to back the governor. Bevin shares a style similar to Trump’s. The Republican businessmen are proudly unconventional conservatives who favor social media and attack critics fiercely.

But his most prominent Republican challenger showed strength with the GOP base. Goforth put at least $750,000 of his own money into his insurgent campaign, which attacked Bevin for his combative style and his struggles on the pension issue.

Bevin ran a low-profile primary campaign that promoted the state’s job growth and low unemployment and his ties to Trump.

Despite the early strong showing by his main challenger, Bevin will have the advantage in the fall campaign of heading the Republican ticket in a state that has trended overwhelmingly toward the GOP in recent years.

Bevin claimed the GOP nomination despite a series of self-inflicted political wounds from his feud with groups representing school teachers. Bevin’s approval ratings slumped after his failed attempt to change the state’s struggling public pension systems.

In a pre-emptive shot, the Democratic Governors Association said even Bevin’s allies at the White House are worried about his reelection.

“They have every right to be worried — the bluegrass state is ready to turn the page from the failed Bevin era,” the group said in a statement.

The contest for Kentucky’s top political job looms as a potential early test of where both political parties stand with voters heading into the 2020 presidential election. Bevin is expected to nationalize the general election race by touting his alliance with Trump and trying to link his Democratic challenger to prominent national liberal politicians. It’s a formula that’s been effective for the GOP in becoming the state’s dominant party.

Voter Tom Priddy cast his vote in Lawrenceburg for Bevin, saying he appreciates that the governor is a strong Trump ally.

“I don’t necessarily like everything about Trump, but Trump’s doing the job,” Priddy said. “He’s doing everything that he said he was going to do.”

But a Democratic voter in Lawrenceburg, retired teacher Roger Whitehouse, said Bevin is vulnerable because of his caustic feud with teachers.

“I think the teachers — the KEA (Kentucky Education Association) and retired teachers — will be beat Bevin,” he said

During the primary campaign, Bevin was a prime target for the Democrats looking to oust him. Goforth also ran an aggressive campaign, trying to capitalize on the governor’s public spats with teachers.

Bevin has sharply criticized teachers who used sick days to rally at Kentucky’s Capitol, forcing some school districts to close.

In 2018, he asserted without evidence that a child who had been left home alone was sexually assaulted on a day of mass school closings as Kentucky teachers rallied. He apologized but then doubled down last month, connecting a young girl’s shooting in Louisville with school closings caused by more teacher protests.

Kentucky teachers rallied last year to oppose pension changes and to demand more funding for schools. Protests continued this year against some education measures. The demonstrations were part of a nationwide wave of teacher activism.

Bevin has steered Kentucky on a conservative course along with the state’s GOP-dominated legislature. He supports school choice efforts and signed measures to restrict abortion, allow people to carry a concealed handgun without a permit or training and a right-to-work measure letting workers evade union fees. Several of the abortion measures are being challenged in court.

He’s also tried to revamp the state’s Medicaid program to require “able-bodied” adults to get a job, go to school or volunteer as a condition to continue receiving the benefits. A federal judge blocked the rules and Bevin’s administration appealed.

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