May 21, 2019

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MEMO: Bevin Sinking Heading Into General Election

Gov. Matt Bevin was supposed to lead the Kentucky Republican party into the future. But four years later, Kentuckians are asking themselves why Bevin continually stands in their way of quality, affordable health care, great public schools, and good paying jobs. On top of all this, Bevin’s flippant and boorish style has managed to anger Kentuckians of every political persuasion in every corner of the state. No wonder he is the country’s most unpopular governor.

It didn’t have to be this way, but Bevin went out of his way to hurt hardworking Kentuckians. He went after Kentuckians’ health care coverage and attacked public education funding while giving huge tax breaks for corporations.

After four years of Bevin’s mismanagement at their expense, Kentuckians have had it. Now Matt Bevin’s closest allies at the White House are increasingly worried about his re-election bid. They have every right to be worried–the Bluegrass State is ready to turn the page from the failed Bevin era.

POLLING

Matt Bevin’s cratering poll numbers coupled with several formidable Democratic candidates put Democrats in a strong position to win back the governor’s mansion in November.

A new poll earlier this month from Public Policy Polling found Matt Bevin losing to a generic Democratic candidate by ten points. The poll also found Bevin had a 53 percent unfavorable rating, higher than any statewide elected official in Kentucky. Bevin had a 56 percent unfavorable rating from Independents and a 34 percent unfavorable rating from Republicans.

Another poll from Mason-Dixon in December 2018 showed Bevin with a 53 percent disapproval rating and struggling in a general election contest in hypothetical matchups with several Democrats.

THE ISSUES

ECONOMY

Matt Bevin’s economic record has failed working Kentuckians.

At 4.6 percent, Kentucky has the largest percentage of its workforce made up of minimum wage earners of any state in the country. Bevin contributed to Kentucky’s stagnant wages by lowering the minimum wage for state workers and contractors from $10.10 to $7.25 an hour. If it were up to Bevin, he would prefer no minimum wage at all and argued for workers to be subject to the whims of private businesses.

Kentucky trails the nation in growth of jobs, population, and wages. The state’s per-capita personal income was $39,393 in 2017, ranking 47th in the nation and lower than all bordering states except West Virginia.

Kentucky falls well behind the country in personal income growth. Nationally, personal income on average increased by 3.1 percent while in Kentucky, personal income increased 1.6 percent. Only five states had lower increases in personal income than Kentucky.

Bevin’s economic record has contributed to stagnant wages and a sluggish economy, harming hardworking Kentuckians – one of the key reasons he is the most unpopular governor in the country.

HEALTH CARE

Matt Bevin’s agenda to take health care away from hardworking Kentuckians will be a major issue in this year’s governor race.

First, Bevin tried to scale back Medicaid coverage which would have caused close to 100,000 Kentuckians to lose access to health care. After Bevin lost a federal court battle over his Medicaid overhaul plan, he threw Kentuckians’ health coverage into chaos by cutting dental and vision coverage for nearly 500,000 Kentuckians without warning.

Both of these plans were deeply unpopular with Kentuckians. A December 2018 Mason-Dixon poll found that 65 percent of Kentuckians opposed Bevin’s plan to take away dental and vision coverage for Medicaid recipients and 65 percent of Kentuckians opposed to Bevin’s plan to scale back Medicaid coverage.

Matt Bevin’s support of federal efforts to sabotage health care have jacked up health care premiums for Kentuckians. Higher premiums would mean fewer Kentuckians can afford their health insurance.

Pricing Kentuckians out of health insurance was not enough for Matt Bevin. He has supported multiple efforts at the federal level to take away coverage for Kentuckians altogether. Bevin supported Graham-Cassidy which would have ripped health care coverage from people with pre-existing conditions and caused 386,000 Kentuckians to lose their health insurance. Bevin also supported the American Health Care Act (AHCA) which would have caused 251,800 Kentuckians to lose their health insurance. He even traveled to D.C. to tell his fellow Republicans they needed to get to work to scale back coverage for hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians he represents.

Bevin’s health care sabotage and his support of measures at the federal level to undermine health care for Kentuckians with pre-existing conditions nationwide have had consequences for the state — another key reason why he is one of the most unpopular governors in the country.

EDUCATION

Matt Bevin’s record of attacking public school funding and educators and slashing university funding puts him on the wrong side of most Kentuckians.

Under Bevin’s failed leadership, cuts to K-12 funding in Kentucky are among the worst in the nation and Kentucky’s higher education institutions are “down to the bone now.” Members of his own party tried to increase public education funding but Matt Bevin stood in the way.

Bevin’s education agenda has proven unpopular with Kentuckians. In a December 2018 Mason-Dixon poll, 81 percent of Kentuckians do not think the education system has improved over the last few years with Bevin in charge.

Bevin managed to further hurt himself while pushing for his unpopular anti-teacher agenda. During the ‘sickout’ teacher protests, Bevin took the opportunity to blame teachers for the sexual assault of children sparking national attention.

Kentucky’s House of Representatives, controlled by the GOP, passed a resolution condemning his behavior. Kentuckians took notice, with a survey finding Bevin’s approval rating dropped 7 points during the controversy.

POLITICAL CLIMATE

It’s clear: Bevin has a tough path towards re-election. Democrats overperformance in Trump districts and national Republicans’ worries about the governor’s race show Democrats are in a strong position in Kentucky. Because of these factors, the Cook Political Report has ranked the Kentucky governor’s race a toss-up.

In 2018, Democrats flipped a state House seat in Kentucky Trump won with 72 percent of the vote in 2016. This past March in Kentucky, Republicans only won a special election seat by 4 points in a district Trump won with 80 percent of the vote.

The Democratic Governors Association flipped seven gubernatorial races in 2018 and won four gubernatorial races in states where Trump won in 2016, even in Kansas, a state Trump won by 21 points.

But much of Bevin’s trouble is of his own making. FiveThirtyEight’s Perry Bacon said, “So here in Kentucky, you could imagine that some voters who might have backed Trump in 2016 disagree with how Bevin has handled the pensions issue or disparaged teachers. Those voters could decide either to vote for one of the Democratic candidates or not vote at all, which would also help the Democrats.”

A Politico article detailed national Republicans worried about Bevin’s re-election prospects: “The governor’s plight has caused unease across the party […] The governor’s political standing is so precarious that he’s being forced to spend campaign funds more than six months before the election.”

Bevin’s record on the economy, health care, education and his penchant for controversial statements will make this campaign his toughest yet. Kentuckians are ready for a change. And Bevin won’t be able to hide from his record of mismanagement at the expense of hardworking Kentuckians much longer.