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Memo: Momentous Win In Kentucky

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***For audio of this morning’s press conference, click here***

To: Interested Parties
From: Marshall Cohen, DGA Political Director
Re: Momentous Win In Kentucky
The Democratic Governors Association (DGA)’s huge victory in Kentucky proves Democrats can win everywhere—including in deep red states—with strong candidates and adequately funded campaigns. 
We were proud to be the single largest investor in the race by far, putting nearly $5.5 million in the Kentucky contest on behalf of Governor-elect Andy Beshear. Our team worked collaboratively with the campaign from day one, and invested strategically to ensure we held Matt Bevin accountable. 
Our win in Kentucky and the evidence on the ground in Louisiana indicates we have the momentum heading into the runoff election on November 16.
How the DGA Invested in Success
Matt Bevin predicted he would win this race by a six to ten points just days ago. The RNC claimed their polling had Bevin ahead. The RGA even thumped their chest on election day.
The DGA worked hand-in-glove with the Beshear campaign to ensure we were efficient, organized, and effective. From running “the most robust field operation […] since 1995”, to a disciplined communications campaign, we made this race about the issues Kentuckians cared about most.
From day one, we knew it would be a close contest. The campaign polling combined with the DGA’s work on modeling “Late-Deciders” provided the strategic insight necessary to make smart decisions and give Gov.-elect Beshear the best shot at winning.
Our record breaking off-year fundraising totals allowed us  to make a huge investment in Kentucky through our IE-affiliated group Bluegrass Values. All told, we spent nearly $5.5 million on this race – a 37% increase compared to 2015. 
We also spent money wisely. Our communications focused on the issues Kentucky families cared about – health care and education. We reminded voters that not only had Matt Bevin insulted them, but his policies hurt their families. A look at our ads proves our point:

  • “Bones” highlighted Bevin’s efforts to take away protections for pre-existing conditions, as well as vision and dental care from children. 
  • “Careers” highlighted how Bevin gave six-figure salaries to his friends while he was undermining health care and public education. 
  • “Air” highlighted Bevin’s secret use of the taxpayer-funded plane to his vacation home and fundraisers while he tried to cut Kentuckians’ health care and public education.

We always expected Republicans to have more money. So we spent efficiently, and when it counted. Despite Republicans outspending us overall, the DGA began positive communication on behalf of Gov.-elect Beshear in July. We then reserved funds, and spent them at the most important time, allowing us to outspend the Republicans over the final 5 weeks of the campaign.
Our investment strategy was driven by our late-breaker modeling project. After our loss in 2015, we knew our polling and tactics needed to change. We invested, figured it out, and it came full circle this year in helping us beat Matt Bevin in 2019.
Governors Races Are Not National Races
As the DGA has proven time and time again, Democrats can win anywhere by focusing on the issues voters care about most. It’s why we’ve won 8 states President Trump won in 2016. 
To be clear, Gov.-elect Beshear ensured the race was about local issues, and forced the conversation away from nationalization.
He relentlessly attacked  Matt Bevin on how he hurt people through bad health care and education policies. Beshear also made this election about character issues by highlighting Bevin’s verbal assault on teachers and working families.  
Beshear’s advertising effectively communicated he would be on the side of Kentucky’s families. The ads also underscored how out-of-touch Matt Bevin is with Kentuckians: 

  • “Respect,” highlighted Beshear’s support for protections for pre-existing conditions and how it aligns with his values of treating Kentuckians with respect. 
  • “Laura” highlighted Beshear’s support of educators and public education funding compared to Bevin’s insults and record of undermining public education. 

Donald Trump Is Not The Magical Answer For Republican Candidates

The results in Kentucky underscore President Donald Trump cannot single handedly win a race for Republicans, even in ruby-red states. 
President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and Secretary Ben Carson barnstormed Kentucky in the final days, but it was not enough. At a rally the day before the election, President Trump himself said that Matt Bevin losing “sends a really bad message” and pleaded with his supporters, saying “you can’t let this happen to me.”
Yet, Kentuckians voted on the issues that affected them day-in and day-out. This proves gubernatorial politics still remains local. 

Looking Forward to Louisiana
Looking at the results in Kentucky, the evidence backs up what we always knew: Gov. John Bel Edwards will be re-elected to another term. 
Early Vote – There are clear signs Democrats are on the offensive in the early vote in Louisiana. After two days of early voting, turnout for the runoff is up 32% compared to the primary just a few weeks ago. What’s more, the electorate is already 2 points more Democrat and 5.5 points more African-American than the comparable moment in the primary.
Trump Dynamic – Our results in Kentucky prove President Trump alone can not win a gubernatorial contest, even when Republican candidates attempt to make it a referendum on national issues. In fact, this was proven during the Louisiana primary. Gov. Edwards actually did better in the primary on Election Day (the day after a Trump rally) than he did in early voting (a week before Trump visited).
Polling – The Governor’s internal polling, which uses a very conservative electorate projection assuming low African-American turnout, shows his strong lead growing during the runoff. What started as a 4 point margin on October 17th has now grown to a 7 point margin on October 30th for the Governor, with him earning 50% of the vote. If the electorate becomes more African-American – which both current evidence from early vote and previous elections predict – the Governor’s lead grows to 9 points.
Polling Rispone’s Image – After an initial bump of Republicans consolidating for Rispone after becoming the nominee, Rispone’s popularity has dropped during the first three weeks of the runoff from +8 favorable to +3 favorable. It is notable this drop occurred prior to Rispone attacking Gov. Edwards’ military record, both at West Point and as an Army Ranger. With 4 military installations and nearly 300,000 veterans in state, this will without a doubt will be an anchor on Rispone’s campaign – and he will have to answer for it every day.