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Behind the scenes of Matt Bevin's loss in Kentucky's governor's race

Andy Beshear, with lieutenant governor candidate Jacqueline Coleman
Kentucky's Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andy Beshear, with lieutenant governor candidate Jacqueline Coleman, in Louisville. Photo: John Sommers II/Getty Images

In an upset in the Kentucky governor's race, Democratic challenger Andy Beshear declared victory over Republican incumbent Matt Bevin, who refused to concede but lagged, 49.2% to 48.8%, with 100% of the vote in.

Behind the scenes: Senior officials at the White House and Republican Governors Association thought Bevin would win, but nobody who was studying the race closely felt overly confident about that outcome.

  • Bevin was telling people he would win — but throughout the campaign, sources in the Trump political orbit expressed concerns about the poor quality of Bevin’s operation and about his weaknesses in public opinion.
  • The White House and Republican Party went all in to help Bevin: a Mike Pence bus tour, Trump trips, and major spending from national groups.

What they're saying: Trump said at a Kentucky rally on election eve: "[I]f you lose, they’re going to say, Trump suffered the greatest defeat in the history of the world."

  • But sources involved in the unsuccessful effort to help Bevin pointed to the rest of the Kentucky ballot — every other statewide Republican candidate in Kentucky won by a comfortable margin — as consolation.
  • They argued that Bevin was such a weak candidate that bigger 2020 lessons shouldn’t be drawn from his defeat.

Between the lines: Indeed, polling shows Bevin is the most unpopular governor in America, and other Kentucky results were solid for Republicans.

  • As U.Va.'s Larry Sabato told Lawrence O'Donnell on MSNBC: "When you're a Republican running statewide in Kentucky, you have to try to lose. And Bevin tried for four years, and he succeeded."

The takeaway: Former Ohio Gov. John Kasich said on CNN that Beshear is a sign to Democrats nationally not to embrace plans like the Medicare for All and the Green New Deal, but to appeal to the middle and win as a moderate.

  • Kasich said Kentucky's message to 2020 Dems is to pick somebody who most of the country can look at and say: "That's reasonable."

Go deeper: GOP's Tate Reeves wins Mississippi gubernatorial election