Kentucky Governor's Remark Stirs Spat With Ex-GOP Challenger

Aug 23, 2019

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin this week insulted the challenger he defeated in the May Republican primary, an unorthodox move that runs the risk of alienating a swath of voters he needs to win a second term.

Kentucky state Rep. Robert Goforth, R-East Bernstadt speaks with reporters at the Farm Bureau Ham Breakfast in Louisville, Ky., Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019.
Credit AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley

While attending the Kentucky Farm Bureau's country ham breakfast on Thursday, Bevin was asked by a WHAS-TV reporter about his ex-rival, Republican state Rep. Robert Goforth. Bevin was told that Goforth had expressed his support for the GOP but did not specifically commit to voting for him.

Bevin replied: "I'm sorry, it's a name so easily forgotten."

Now, Goforth says his supporters may not forget the governor's jab come November.

Goforth received nearly 40% of the Republican vote in the primary, carrying large sections of eastern and southeastern Kentucky. Bevin barely surpassed 50% of the vote, and the rest went to two other candidates.

Bevin's general election opponent, Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear, has campaigned with his two primary rivals in a show of unity since winning the nomination.

On the GOP side, the snub against Gofoth threatens to further complicate intraparty issues for a governor who already has been sued by his Republican lieutenant governor over a staffing dispute in her office. But it is not out of character for someone who has made a take-no-prisoners style his signature both as a candidate and as governor.

Goforth's campaign manager, T.J. Litafik, called the insult "one more example of politically bizarre behavior" from the governor. Goforth said Bevin's remark reflected the "same attitude he's always had," adding it's the reason he tried to unseat the governor.

"He (Bevin) acted like he didn't know who I was," Goforth said in a phone interview. "There are over 101,000 people who knew who I was on May 21" when they voted for him in the primary. "He has to have every one of them to win this election. Without them, I don't think he can win. And with an attitude like that, how can he expect anyone to support him?"

Bevin's campaign did not immediately respond to an email and phone call seeking comment.

Goforth said his phone was filled with messages from supporters outraged by Bevin's remarks. He stopped short of saying whether he'll vote for Bevin.

"There's a long way to November, but we'll just have to see," he said. "I hope he changes his attitude, but if he doesn't, he doesn't. I'm going to vote for who I think will best lead Kentucky."

Litafik also declined to say whether he would vote for Bevin, but he predicted the governor's combativeness would cost him votes.

"There are a lot of Republicans who simply aren't going to vote (in the governor's race) or will vote for the Libertarian candidate," Litafik said. "And there are some upset enough that they are going to vote for Andy Beshear."

Beshear's campaign pounced on Bevin's remarks, with spokesman Sam Newton saying they showed the governor "can't get along with anyone." Newton called it another sign of Bevin's "erratic behavior," which has become a theme for the Democratic campaign.

Beshear was endorsed last month by longtime Republican state Sen. Dan Seum, who criticized Bevin for "running around the state insulting" people — including teachers in Seum's own family. Bevin has had a long-running feud with public education groups that opposed his efforts to revamp the state's chronically underfunded public pension systems.

While tensions flared between Bevin and Goforth, Beshear got a strong plug at Thursday's ham breakfast from state House Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, who finished second behind the attorney general in the spring primary.

"I think he's showing that he is a person of faith and a strong believer, and that's what you've got to do: You've got to define yourself and who you are," Adkins said.

Bevin has stressed the state's economic growth, his opposition to abortion and his ties to President Donald Trump in trying to reunite the GOP behind him in the fall. Bevin and Goforth are social conservatives.

The governor received a strong endorsement this week from Trump, who during a visit to the state Wednesday called him a "great governor" who might not be fully appreciated.

Trump also headlined a private fundraiser for the governor.