Governor Matt Bevin and his Democratic rival, Andy Beshear, took the gloves off in their second televised debate – one that saw the Republican incumbent come out swinging on education, abortion, Medicaid, and other hot button issues.
Backers of the two candidates competed for attention and horn honks along the Avenue of Champions at the University of Kentucky ahead of the face off. Sam Newton, communications director for the Beshear campaign, said the attorney general’s crowd represented more than the Democrat’s base.
"There's Republicans here. There's Democrats here. There's Independents here," he told WUKY, "all rallying behind Andy Beshear."
Across the street Greg Brannan with the Republican Party at UK said he doesn't always agree with the governor's choice of words, but argued Bevin is getting an unfair rap.
"He's made hard decisions that are never going to be popular and people are kicking him for it and I don't think he's going to be kicked for it," the student said.
Inside the Singletary Center, it was the candidates who slugged it out in in the WKYT-TV showdown, with Bevin ramping up attacks on Beshear and the Democrat looking to land his own blows. The pair tussled over jobs, their records, and Beshear’s commitment to the central plank of his campaign – education funding.
"You love public education so much that your kids go to private school, is that right?" the governor asked.
"You're attacking my kids now?" the attorney general replied.
"No, I'm not," Bevin shot back. "I'm just saying you're a fraud."
Minutes later, the Democrat returned to the remark, saying, "my kids got an opportunity everyone should have: to go to preschool. We fell in love with that school, so they're continuing, but just next week my son is taking the test to go to a public middle school and we are proud of it."
The topic of abortion proved almost as divisive, with Beshear charging his opponent with holding view that fall far outside the mainstream.
"This governor is an extremist," the candidate said. "He supports a total ban, even for victims of rape and incest, something the president doesn't support."
"It is the responsibility of government to defend the defenseless and that includes the unborn," Bevin answered. "There is not one person on planet earth... who has the right to decide when an innocent person should die based on some circumstance beyond that individual's control. Nobody."
The increasingly heated exchanges led to frequent applause and boos from the crowd with the moderators at times sounding more like chaperones. Asked afterward about the harsh tone of the debate, both said their opponents showed their true colors.
"Yes, I'm going to fight for the things I believe in, but the type of behavior you saw tonight from (Bevin) is not befitting a governor," Beshear told reporters.
"There's nothing I said tonight that wasn't true," the GOP incumbent said. "If (Beshear) can't handle the truth, then he's not prepared to be the governor of Kentucky."
The evening was the second of five televised debates agreed to by the candidates.