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Comeback Matt: Republican Bests Democrat In Historic Governor's Race

With his wife Glenna Bevin, center, and Lieutenant Governor-elect Jenean Hampton, right, looking on, Kentucky Republican Governor-elect Matt Bevin, speaks to his supporters at the Republican Party victory celebration, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015, in Louisville.

Republican Matt Bevin pulled out a dramatic upset Tuesday night, heading up a slate of successful GOP candidates.

Supporters are calling it the “Bevolution.”

"We represent an opportunity as a ticket to be something that Kentucky has never seen before," he told an enthusiastic crowd of backers at Louisville's Galt House. "Representation of who we are, a seat at the table for people from every perspective of our state. This is going to change the tenor of this state just as it changed the tenor of this election and the way we executed this campaign."

Defeating two-term Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway by roughly eight points to become only the second Republican to win the Governor’s Mansion in 40 years, the Louisville businessman pledged to unite a divided electorate. Campaigning on a conservative wish list that included right-to-work legislation, school choice, and the plans to roll back Kentucky’s Medicaid expansion and dismantle the state’s health insurance exchange, Bevin will now lead a GOP coalition comprised of a heavily Republican Senate and a sizable minority in the state House.

"I appreciate Matt Bevin's message. It is the right message. And today politics ends, tomorrow policy begins," Senate President Robert Stivers said during an appearance on KET.

At opposition headquarters in Frankfort, the mood was somber as shell-shocked Democrats wondered aloud about how their party and the pollsters who predicted a Conway win got it so wrong. Some pointed to the sustained effort by Republicans to tie state Democrats to President Obama. Rowan County Judge-Executive Walter Blevins pinned the blame on turnout, which, while low, managed to beat 2011 numbers by just under 3 percent.

"You've got 75 percent of the people that are registered to vote that are sitting at home, or I don't know what they're doing, watching Game of Thrones or something," Blevins said. "They're not doing what they should be doing."

Independent Drew Curtis arrived a distant third with less than 4 percent of the vote in the final tally.

The Shape Of Things To Come?

Bevin’s decisive win reverberated not just in Frankfort but in Washington, D.C. with establishment party officials nervous that Kentucky could be a bellwether for next year’s presidential election.

By electing Bevin, a candidate whose Tea Party-backed primary challenge to Sen. Mitch McConnell faltered in 2014, Kentucky voters have signaled they’re ready a new kind of Republican – one Democratic State Rep. George Brown dubs a “wild card.”

The Lexington lawmaker said Bevin’s ascendency is evidence that the populist sentiment that’s unexpectedly catapulted political outsiders like Ben Carson and Donald Trump to the front of the GOP presidential field might be more than talk.

"It's the wave of what's happening in the country. There's a lot of the vote that's coming out against the establishment all over. And I think that people are just sick and tired of being sick and tired and they'll vote for the other thinking that they're going to get what's best, but we're going to see," the former Urban County Council member told WUKY.

But while Democrats fear Bevin has radical plans in store for the commonwealth, starting with the reversal of the state’s Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, the governor-elect struck a conciliatory tone Tuesday night – making light of the dire image of him painted by those on the left.

"I know that many of you are weary of turning on your TV and seeing my evil twin," he said. "And so I just want you to know that I have asked him to move out of Kentucky."

What changes could be moving in are uncertain, but it could play a role in deciding whether the growing distaste for traditional candidates has staying power.

Fark Founder Futures

Overshadowed by the sea change was Independent Drew Curtis, who failed to attract voters in serious numbers. But the Versailles tech entrepreneur isn’t out of the picture just yet. Seated at the center of Lexington’s Chase Brewing Co., Drew Curtis didn’t promise his supporters a win Tuesday night – only the best party.

"I'm drinking. This is great," he says when asked about the mood at the campaign's adopted headquarters.

A colorful and unpredictable addition to the 2015 governor’s race, Curtis limited his campaign mostly to social media and email, often mocking the leading candidates as stale and out of ideas. But, as it turns out, they may be interested in his.

"They've both contacted me behind the scenes... not them specifically necessarily, but both parties have about would I be willing to participate," he says. "And the answer is maybe yes, what have you got?"

And while he’s open to the possibility of contributing to the Bevin administration in some form or fashion, he says running for lower office holds little appeal for him. But another campaign for the top executive spot? That, he says, might still be in the cards.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.
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