- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Kentucky elected a Republican governor on Tuesday night, just its second in more than 40 years, nearly completing the state’s political realignment away from the Democrats.

Republican businessman Matt Bevin defeated Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway by 53 to 44 percent, with Independent Drew Curtis taking 4 percent in the race to succeed term-limited Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear.

Tuesday’s other governor’s race was much less hotly contested. Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant easily won a second term over Robert Gray, a Democrat who spent just $3,000 in a token campaign in the overwhelmingly Republican state.

But the Kentucky result came as a bit of an upset because every public poll taken since Mr. Bevin won the GOP nomination by a mere 83 votes had shown Mr. Conway ahead of Mr. Bevin, albeit only slightly in recent weeks.

In his victory speech, Mr. Bevin issued a clarion call for unity, praising Mr. Conway and saying “this is our opportunity to come together as one. We have much work ahead of us.”

It is time “to get the overalls on, get the boots on and get out of bed,” he said. He takes office Dec. 8.

His running mate — Lt. Gov.-elect Jenean Hampton, who introduced him Tuesday night — became the first black person to win a statewide race in Kentucky.

Mr. Conway made a concession and congratulations call before 9 p.m., telling supporters at the Frankfort Convention Center that he had told his rival that he “remained positive about moving this state forward, and that if he ever needed any assistance, that this Democrat was at his disposal.”

Mr. Bevin ran as a Christian conservative, a tea party backer and a vocal supporter of clerk Kim Davis and her religious resistance to issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. By contrast, Mr. Conway, when he was attorney general and a year before the Supreme Court’s ruling, decided not to appeal a federal judge’s order that the state marry same-sex couples, effectively imposing gay marriage on the state by default

The Bevin campaign hammered Mr. Conway over his support for President Obama, with ads saying that the Democratic candidate was in favor of Obamacare, gun control and abortion but against coal, “just like Obama.”

Mr. Bevin tried to unseat U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whom he has called an Eastern establishment “con man,” in last year’s Senate race, but suffered a lopsided loss in the Republican primary.

The Bevin victory nearly completes Kentucky’s shift from Democratic to Republican over the past few decades. While Republicans dominate the federal offices, Kentucky’s relatively conservative Democrats have been able to hold their own in state-level races.

But now Republicans will control the statehouse and a healthy majority in the state Senate, though Democrats still hold the lower chamber.

• Victor Morton can be reached at vmorton@washingtontimes.com.

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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