Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce offers comprehensive Kentucky election breakdown

Posted In Elections

Amid all of the excellent coverage of the 2015 Kentucky gubernatorial election, the Northern Kentucky Chamber's Government Affairs Department provided a must read top-to-bottom breakdown of Tuesday's events.

2015 Election Wrap: Context & Consequences

 "That's why we play the game, to see who'll win"  -- Adolph Rupp 

Kentucky Governor's Race:  

Matt Bevin/Jenean Hampton 52%

Jack Conway/Sannie Overly 44%

Drew Curtis/Heather Curtis 4%

It was all supposed to be a done deal.  The polls consistently showed Democrat Attorney General Jack Conway as the likely winner.  The national and local press had all but written off Republican Matt Bevin.  There was chattering around that state that Bevin could still win, but how many expected it after such a bloody GOP primary?  In private, many Republican leaders in Northern Kentucky expected Conway to squeak out a close victory.  As it turns out, more than half of Kentuckians, with a very strong dose of support from Northern Kentucky, turned out at the polls to rebuff the pundits and make Matt Bevin the 62nd Governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.  In the process, Republicans will now hold 5 of the 7 statewide constitutional offices. 

Bevin received 52% of the vote, while Conway garnered 44% and Independent Drew Curtis earned 4%.  In Northern Kentucky, Bevin won 65% of the vote in Boone County, 62% in Grant County, 57% in Kenton County & 53% in Campbell County.   To put this in historical perspective, this wasn't quite the level of margin that Ernie Fletcher had in 2003, but it was close to that modern day high water mark for Republicans in a Governor's race.   

In Northern Kentucky, Campbell had about 29% turnout, Kenton & Boone each had about 26% turnout and Grant County had 23% show up to the polls.  Statewide, voter turnout approached 31%.  While Northern Kentucky turnout was not quite as high as the state at-large, it was higher here than many across the state thought and as a result contributed to Bevin's path to victory. 

Conway won Lexington and Louisville, but did not run up the margins enough in those areas to make up for what was happening in the rural regions of the state.  Many rural counties across the state that traditionally voted for a Democratic governor voted for Bevin, including Pike County, home of Gov. Paul Patton and a longtime stronghold of the Democratic Party in Kentucky.   The reasons for these rural swings can be attributed to a renewed disapproval of President Obama and his policies across Kentucky.  While never popular here, new lows were found in the summer shortly after the headlines made by Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis. Voters in these areas have also continued to become increasingly concerned with the EPA's increasing coal regulations.  These two issues created a tempest that set the stage for last night's Bevin win.

In contrast, Conway adopted a strategy to meet with small groups of donors on a daily basis, focusing on those disaffected by Bevin's style of campaigning. Conway did not do a lot of public retail campaigning, but was able to raise enough money to fund his plan.  His end goal was to convince moderate and/or metro area voters that he was the safer candidate than Bevin while maintaining rural support among his base.  Conway's unadventurous campaign also served to downplay the high negatives that Kentuckians had against a generic Democratic candidate due to President Obama's low approval ratings.  In the end, however, this style of campaign allowed Conway and other down ticket Democrats to be linked to Obama because many voters were not aware of the specific policies touted by the Democratic Party ticket.

Meanwhile, Bevin's campaign was the polar opposite of Conway's.  Low on money but very active in terms of getting out among the people and talking at length about his policy stances, even when media deemed them controversial.  A late push by Bevin in Northern Kentucky that focused on "family values" issues shored up support as well.  Late mail and robocalls focused on Bevin's identity as a "Christian Conservative" - something which has been tried at more local levels, but often not at the level of a Governor's race.

Ironically, the Republican Party of Kentucky had little money for turnout operations, while at the same time, the Kentucky Democratic Party was well funded.  This scenario is very much the opposite of many recent elections in Kentucky.  The financial disparity existed not only at the state party level but also the candidate level.  With these factors going against him, last night was certainly a sweet win for Matt Bevin, but it was equally if not more so a lost opportunity for Jack Conway.  

Finally, the public polling released by the media in these Kentucky races continues a widespread problem within the polling community at large.  In the last few years, respected polling companies across many western democracies have been unable to detect widespread swings among the electorate.  This has been the case in Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, Israel, and many state races within the United States.  One need only look at last year's McConnell/Grimes U.S. Senate race for a more local example of how wrong the polling community got the final result.  That trend continued in Kentucky last night as Bevin won big after months of polling showed Conway would win. 

What It Means 

On the public policy front, Bevin's promotion of himself as a small business owner puts many business issues squarely on the table.  Issues such as Right to Work, Small Business Tax Reform, and Regulatory Reduction become key policy areas to monitor and see where the new Governor positions his administration.  Healthcare policy will also be closely watched, as Bevin has campaigned on shutting down the Kentucky Connect healthcare portal.  He has also campaigned for the repeal of "common core" educational standards.  Also of note in Northern Kentucky, Bevin touted his support for outcome-based post-secondary education funding as well as his priority on fixing pensions.

Bevin may have some work to do to repair relationships with any legislators who supported other candidates in the primary, however many hard feelings should be healed by the margin of Bevin's victory.  The House Democratic Caucus will have their hands full as Bevin submits his first budget, which will be due just after the beginning of session.  However, the House Democrats will also be under pressure to hold their majority after last night's Republican wins.

As we move towards Bevin's December 8th inauguration, one topic of interest will be who will take prominent cabinet & staff positions within the administration.  Which Northern Kentuckians will be in this mix?  Will any legislators fill these roles and in turn open up spots in the General Assembly?   It has been widely rumored that certain legislators were looking to get appointed to positions, something that often happens after a new Governor takes office.  Information on other legislative vacancies caused by yesterday's elections and the impact they will have on the 2016 General Assembly is discussed later in this report.

Aside from the policy and legislative implications, another issue moving forward will be how this result impacts Republican primaries and turnout operations moving forward.  The Tea Party was able to navigate their candidate through a bloody primary and onto final victory last night. How will this impact candidates who file for the 2016 cycle?  How will Democrats recover from this historic defeat and redefine what their message is?  The 2016 filing deadline is less than 12 weeks away.

On a historical note, Jenean Hampton becomes the first African-American to be elected to statewide office in Kentucky history.

Secretary of State

Alison Grimes 51%

Stephen Knipper 49%

Election Wrap

Incumbent Secretary of State Alison Grimes (D) was re-elected, defeating former Erlanger Council Member Stephen Knipper (R) 51-49.  Grimes has high name ID in the wake of her defeat to Sen. Mitch McConnell in 2014.  That high name ID, combined with Knipper's lack of name ID and fundraising, protected Grimes from last night's Republican wave. It could be argued that had Grimes not run against McConnell in 2014, her name ID may not have been high enough to survive last night.  In Northern Kentucky, Knipper won every county.

What It Means

Grimes will be the only state constitutional office holder to return to her job next year.  She earns four more years in statewide office and further time to consider her next political move.  It also leaves her and Andy Beshear as the future of the state Democratic Party for the time being.  Their families represent the past as much as the future, having been rivals within the Kentucky's Democratic Party for several decades.

Attorney General

Andy Beshear 50.1%

Whitney Westerfield 49.9%

Election Wrap

Andy Beshear (D) defeated State Senator Whitney Westerfield (R) by just 2,000 votes out of nearly one million votes cast.  Beshear had no primary, a huge fundraising advantage, and a familiar last name.  Meanwhile, Westerfield had an unexpected competitive primary and took a bit of time to find his voice.  As the summer progressed, the Republican Governors Association became heavily involved in the race, national trends leaned further towards Republicans, and Westerfield hit his stride.  In the end however, the groundwork laid by Beshear over the last 12 months was enough to survive the Republican night.  Like Grimes, his name ID served to protect him, albeit by the slimmest of margins.  With the exception of Gallatin County, Westerfield won each county in Northern Kentucky.

What It Means

A Beshear legacy comes into view. Andy Beshear is only 37 years old with four years ahead of him in a high profile office.   Given recent political history in Kentucky, he also becomes a check and balance against the new Bevin administration.  His interactions with Bevin over the next four years will tell the story of how successful each man is in their respective offices. 


Mike Harmon 52%

Adam Edelen 48%

Election Wrap

Incumbent Auditor Adam Edelen (D) was defeated by State Rep. Mike Harmon (R)  52-48.  This race was seen as the most likely win for Democrats, making it all the more shocking when Harmon came up with the victory.   It is widely thought that Edelen had done a good job as Auditor, but the attack ads against Harmon backfired and the anti-Obama sentiment carried the day here.   In Northern Kentucky, Harmon picked up victories in each county.

What It Means

Harmon's house seat will open up soon and a special election will take place.  Edelen will have to consider his next political move.  Had he won, Edelen was expected to take on Sen. Rand Paul for the United States Senate in 2016 or possibly Rep. Andy Barr for Central Kentucky's Congress seat.


Allison Ball 61%  

Rick Nelson 39%

Election Wrap

The top vote getter of the night, attorney Allison Ball (R) defeated State Rep. Rick Nelson (D) 61-39.  Both candidates emerged from crowded primaries to face off.  Many Republicans had high hopes for Allison Ball, who ran a strong campaign.  Nelson, a respected legislator, was not as proactive in his campaign and couldn't overcome the Republican trend.   In Northern Kentucky, Ball won all counties.

What It Means

Ball becomes a rising star in the party and has an opportunity to bring the Treasurer's office back to prominence after years of neglect. 

Agriculture Commissioner

Ryan Quarles 60%  

Jean-Marie Lawson Spann 40%

Election Wrap

State Rep. Ryan Quarles (R) defeats Jean-Marie Lawson Spann (D) 60-40.  If Edelen was thought to be the strongest candidate on the Democratic Party side during 2015, Quarles surely had that designation on the GOP side of the ticket.  Unlike Edelen, Quarles was able to successfully convert those feelings into victory.  He benefited from a great deal of Republican activists becoming involved in his campaign instead of other races further up the ticket.  This was a similar pattern that emerged in 2011, when many Republican powerbrokers focused on James Comer's Agriculture race.   Quarles swept Northern Kentucky.

What It Means

A special election in Rep. Ryan Quarles house seat.  He continues on a path towards running for higher office. 


Two Special Elections will now occur due to last night's results.  Reps. Ryan Quarles and Mike Harmon will be sworn-in on a different date than Gov. Elect Bevin, the first Monday of the new year, January 4th.   As a result, elections will be called for those seats and would likely take place in February 2016.  If either representative were to step aside earlier this fall, the timeline would move up.  Given the political nature of timing in these matters, expect to see jockeying and debate among when and how these two reps step down. 

Before last night, the House was 54 Democrats to 46 Republicans.  It will now be 54 Democrats to 44 Republicans with these two vacancies to be filled.  Both seats should be retained by Republicans, though winter special elections are always hard to predict.