- The Washington Times - Monday, November 4, 2019

On the eve of gubernatorial elections in two states, President Trump blasted the Democratic Party and urged voters in Kentucky and elsewhere to send a message by putting Republicans in the chief executive chairs.

“Tomorrow, Kentucky has a chance to send the radical Democrats a message,” Mr. Trump said to a packed house in Rupp Arena in Lexington. “You will vote to reject the Democrats, extremism, socialism and corruption and you will vote to reelect Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin.”

The president’s message echoed one he delivered in Tupelo, Mississippi, on Friday and is expected to send Wednesday in Monroe, Louisiana, which picks its governor Nov. 16.

Although it is only three chief-executive elections in states Mr. Trump easily carried in 2016, he spared no effort Monday night to pin what he described as the sins of the National Democratic Party on the local parties and candidates.

As evidence, he cited the Covington Catholic School students who were falsely accused of hassling an American Indian man in Washington, D.C., on a field trip from their Kentucky school and then painted nationally as bigots for wearing MAGA hats.

“We’re sending a signal by doing that to the rest of the country and the rest of the world,” Mr. Trump said. “You see what’s happening with the Democrats: They have gone crazy. They want to erase our traditions, our culture, our history and our heroes. They want to subjugate you.”

In addition to Mr. Bevin, the president was joined by Kentucky’s two Republican senators — Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul. Mr. Trump said the two men have been instrumental in implementing his program that has led to record employment and the lowest unemployment rate in state history.

While Mr. Trump has done his best in the past few days to nationalize the gubernatorial races, and while many likely will read such elements into the results, they may not prove that significant, according to many analysts.

“Whatever the results are, they’re going to be overplayed, that’s for sure,” said Ron Faucheux, a former Louisiana elected official who now is a political consultant and analyst in Washington.

The races are wide open, according to the political numbers crunchers. All three states are considered more Republican than Democratic, although the incumbent in Louisiana is a Democrat.

Republican incumbent Gov. Matt Bevin is finishing a tough race against Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear. In Mississippi, Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves hopes to defeat Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood.

A sweep of the three contests by one party would raise prognosticators’ eyebrows. Absent that, the elections probably don’t provide a window into the 2020 elections.

“State races, particularly those held in odd-numbered years, are less tethered to national politics,” said political analyst Charlie Cook, whose Cook Political Report rates Kentucky a toss-up and Mississippi as “leans Republican.”

Similarly, respected sources such as the RealClearPolitics polling average and FiveThirtyEight show no clear-cut advantage to either party.

“The issues are different, people see their state capitols a bit differently than Washington,” Mr. Cook said. “Three state elections in some of the reddest, most Republican states in the country would be particularly uninformative. Each one has distinct dynamics.”

Indeed, while the Mississippi race has been less heated than that in Kentucky, the talk of impeachment and other presidential matters has been largely absent from the campaign trails. In 2016, Mr. Trump won all three states.

Mr. Reeves and Mr. Bevin have both embraced Mr. Trump and done their best to paint their opponents as Democrats in the mold of the coastal liberals who dominate the party’s congressional leadership.

Mr. Hood and Mr. Beshear, on the other hand, have worked to keep Mr. Trump’s presidency as much out of the discussion as possible, with neither of them offering any firm support of his impeachment or explicit criticism of his policies.

“The Democrats in all three states know if they make Trump an issue they are going to lose their elections,” Mr. Faucheux said. “They have all positioned themselves well to the right of where the national Democrats are.”

Instead, the gubernatorial candidates have kindled more local controversy and focused on issues such as health care and the economy.

Mr. Bevin has slammed Mr. Beshear, whose father was Kentucky governor before Mr. Bevin, as a pawn of Big Pharma, criticizing Mr. Beshear’s law firm’s defense of OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma in an opioid settlement the state reached in 2015.

Mr. Hood, meanwhile, tried to link Mr. Reeves to a road construction project allegedly undertaken to help ease access to Mr. Reeves’ home neighborhood.

On economic affairs, the Republican candidates have understandably attached themselves to the economic coattails of the Trump administration, with Mr. Reeves arguing voters should continue the progress Mississippi has seen under Mr. Trump and the term-limited Republican Gov. Phil Bryant. Mr. Bevin points to economic gains for Kentucky during his first term.

Still, Mr. Trump’s stumping on behalf of the Republican candidates has injected some drama into the gubernatorial contests. No stranger to political fights, Mr. Trump has been outspoken in his praise of the Republican candidates he says will help implement his platform and his criticism of the Democratic candidates he says will resist it.

“Either way, I am unlikely to read too much into tomorrow’s results for their impact on 2020,” said Scott Lasley, a political science professor at Western Kentucky University. “Even if Gov. Bevin would end up not winning, it won’t be due to dwindling influence by Trump in Kentucky. Trump is clearly an asset that Bevin has been able to employ in the state — closing the campaign with a Trump rally in Lexington is a strong sign of that.”

• James Varney can be reached at jvarney@washingtontimes.com.

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