FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Reinserting immigration into his reelection campaign, Kentucky Republican Gov. Matt Bevin has embraced an issue Donald Trump rode to the presidency while acknowledging that illegal immigration isn’t “a huge issue” for a state that lies far from the nation’s borders.
Bevin’s campaign released a TV ad this week that promotes cracking down on illegal immigration and prohibiting the creation of “sanctuary cities.” He followed up with another commercial touting his anti-abortion credentials - another hot-button issue that has become a mainstay of his campaign.
It highlights a strategy to spotlight issues geared toward shoring up his social conservative support. The governor - who has alienated some Kentuckians with his insults of teachers - barely surpassed 50% of the vote against three challengers in the May GOP primary.
“He’s got a lot of Republicans who aren’t for him,” said longtime Kentucky political commentator Al Cross. “And this may be his latest strategy to get Republicans behind him.”
Bevin faces a tough challenge in November from Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear, who has stressed public education and health care in his campaign.
The governor conceded Monday that illegal immigration isn’t “a huge issue for us as a state, but it’s a concern for this country.” Bevin told reporters that he brought up the issue because “it matters to people who live here.”
“Surprisingly for a state that’s not a border state, it comes up time and time again near the top of people’s lists,” he said. “And I think in some measure driven by the fact that nationally it’s very topical. I think people believe that we should have immigration but it should follow the law.”
The ad - alleging that Beshear would allow illegal immigrants to “swarm our state” - was condemned by Beshear’s campaign as a “baseless, false attack ad.” The ad came out at a time when the Kentucky State Fraternal Order of Police endorsed Beshear.
“As attorney general, Beshear made sure that Kentucky did not have any sanctuary cities so that Kentucky would receive its share of federal funds for law enforcement,” Beshear campaign spokesman Sam Newton said in a statement Monday.
GOP strategist Scott Jennings said the immigration ad is part of a strategy to nationalize the governor’s race while aligning with Trump, who remains popular in Kentucky.
“It’s about Bevin cleaving to Trump,” he said. “This is his way to show kinship with Trump.”
By emphasizing immigration and abortion, Bevin’s campaign is highlighting two issues that “drive enormous intensity” among GOP voters, Jennings said by phone Tuesday.
“He has to bring those Republicans and other conservative voters who are Democrats … back to him with the issues that drive the most intensity,” he said. “It’s a smart strategy.”
Democratic strategist Mark Riddle called the immigration ad a “scare tactic” that indicates Bevin is probably “a step or two behind in the race.”
“This is nothing more than to try to scare voters that somehow people who don’t look like them are going to take their jobs and hurt their families,” Riddle said by phone Tuesday. “And it’s just ridiculous and should not be the focus on the governor’s race.”
It’s not the first time Bevin has brought up illegal immigration.
In July, the governor came out in support of proposed legislation to prohibit the creation of “sanctuary cities” and limit local governments from enacting policies prohibiting local police from cooperating with immigration officials or asking people about their immigration status.
The new ad promoting Bevin’s anti-abortion credentials is his latest attempt to score political points on an issue that has proven to motivate Republican voters. The commercial shows Bevin with his large family.
Bevin signed a series of bills that put new restrictions or conditions on a woman’s ability to get an abortion. Some of those abortion laws are bottled up in federal courts, including one that would mostly ban abortions in the state once a fetal heartbeat is detected.
Beshear stressed his faith and played up the pastors in his family tree in his own recent ad.
Beshear supports the landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide. That ruling allowed reasonable restrictions on the procedure and Beshear supports those restrictions, especially related to late-term abortion procedures, his campaign has said.
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