Republican incumbent Gov. Matt Bevin refused to concede late Tuesday in Kentucky’s gubernatorial race, citing “irregularities” — potentially kickstarting weeks of uncertainty as the closely-watched contest with national implications remains too close to call.
The drama-filled evening also saw Republicans holding onto the governorship in Mississippi despite a fierce Democratic challenge, while Democrats retook both the Virginia state Senate and the House of Delegate for the first time in more than two decades.
On Monday, Trump had called on an “angry majority” of voters to boost Bevin, in a nod to Richard Nixon’s “silent majority” and Richard Nixon’s “moral majority.” But with 100 percent of precincts reporting, Bevin was behind Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear, 49.2 percent (711,955 votes) to 48.9 percent (707,297 votes). Libertarian candidate John Hicks received 28,475 votes, or 2.0 percent.
The Associated Press said it could not declare a winner, owing to the tight margin. The Democratic National Committee and other top Democrats, however, claimed victory. Amy McGrath, who is running in a long-shot bid to unseat GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in 2020, issued a fiery statement late Tuesday declaring that a Democrat had “just defeated one of the most unpopular Republicans in the country.”
McGrath added: “All I have to say is: Mitch, you’re next.”
Although Bevin has not outlined his next steps, Kentucky law provides for a variety of possible challenges — including a recount, a recanvass, or a legal challenge to the election based on irregularities. There is no automatic recount process under Kentucky law.
Regardless of the final outcome, the razor-thin margin in the race did not come as a surprise Republicans. Although Trump carried deep-red Kentucky by 30 points in the 2016 presidential election, Bevin has long been unusually unpopular for a Republican in the state, owing in part to his numerous spats with striking public school teachers and his plan to address a growing pension crisis.
Bevin significantly underperformed the rest of the GOP ticket on the ballot in Kentucky on Tuesday, as Republican candidate Daniel Cameron handily won his race to become the state’s next attorney general. Cameron made history as the first African-American to be elected Kentucky Attorney General and the first Republican to hold the post in more than 70 years.