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

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