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Kentucky Governor's Race Is One To Watch On Election Day 2019


Yes, we're still three months away from the first 2020 primary. But there are some key state races being decided today. And they could give us some insight into where voters stand heading into next year's presidential election.

President Trump is out there on the campaign trail. Last night, he was in Kentucky, where Governor Matt Bevin is up for re-election. The two of them appeared at the legendary Rupp Arena, where the University of Kentucky Wildcats play basketball. Here is Bevin.


MATT BEVIN: This is better - this is better than the Final Four, I'll tell you what, in terms of energy. This is extraordinary. Thank you, Kentucky. It is critical that we go top to bottom, run the slate, vote straight Republican.

GREENE: All right. NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea was there and joins me now. Hey there, Don.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.

GREENE: Pretty bold to say there's more energy in a room - in a basketball arena in Kentucky than there would be in the Final Four. I mean, did the president really bring a lot of energy to this governor and his push to win back office?

GONYEA: Well, he certainly did, and it was important for Matt Bevin. It's a very tight race. He's been getting a lot of kind of moral support and inspiration from President Trump. But what the president did last night is he made it clear that he is making this statewide race in Kentucky very much about Washington and about the battles he is currently engaged in. Last night, he talked plenty about impeachment. He called it a deranged witch hunt. And he linked the Democrat running for governor, state Attorney General Andy Beshear, to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and to House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff and to the impeachment proceedings.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Beshear doesn't represent you. He represents the Washington swamp. And he's backed by the same people trying to overthrow the last election.

GREENE: Wow. OK. So really making it about him, making it about what's happening in Washington, going after the Democrat. I mean, though, Don, we should say, Kentucky - a really red state, and this race is close.

GONYEA: That's right. And for most of the campaign, the challenger, Beshear, was ahead - sometimes with a very solid lead. But with Election Day here upon us, the polls show it to be very tight, even though as governor, Bevin has been very unpopular. He's gone after teacher pensions and Medicaid expansion. But his campaign, again, has taken cues from Trump. There's an ad with him and the president aboard Air Force One. And he portrays Beshear as anti-Trump. But Beshear, meanwhile, has mostly tried to stick to Kentucky, stick to the issues in his ads. This one's typical.


ANDY BESHEAR: Like half of Kentucky, my family has preexisting conditions. We're lucky they're not serious. But that's not the case for Lukas Stevens and thousands of Kentuckians, and Matt Bevin is trying to take away their health care. I'm Andy Beshear. I'm not going to let that happen.

GREENE: All right - really getting a preview for what one Democrat, one Republican and their messages this year. So this is - that's Kentucky. But there are elections today in - what? - five states. There are big contests - Virginia, Mississippi. I mean, what are you watching for today?

GONYEA: Right. So Mississippi, a governor's race, it's surprisingly close. The incumbent can't run because of term limits. So it's Republican Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves against Democratic state Attorney General - another attorney general - Jim Hood. Trump was there on Friday stumping for Reeves.

Also, we're keeping a very close watch on the Virginia legislature today. It is controlled by the GOP - but by just a few seats in the House of Delegates and by a single seat in the Senate. Democrats made big gains there in 2017, and they hope to flip both chambers. Notable - President Trump has not come to Virginia to campaign. It's not a state he carried. But Vice President Pence was there over the weekend, as were Democrats. Joe Biden was there, and Bernie Sanders was there, as well.

GREENE: NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea on the campaign trail - Lexington, Ky. Don, thanks for being out there for us, as always.

GONYEA: All right. Thank you, sir. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.
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