Republican Gov. Matt Bevin could face a legacy-defining decision when the vote totals from the Kentucky governor’s race are double-checked Thursday — concede to Democrat Andy Beshear or contest last week’s election in a historic move that could put the outcome in the hands of state lawmakers.
Bevin faces a growing chorus of Bluegrass State Republicans urging him to accept the results of the recanvass unless he can point to evidence of substantial voter fraud.
Even some of the governor’s allies acknowledge that the recanvass, which Bevin requested, is unlikely to change the outcome.
During a weekend appearance in California before a group of young conservatives, Bevin defended his refusal to concede while repeating his claim that he wants to ensure the integrity of the election.
“I would rather lose a clean election than to win a dirty election, and I’ll be darned if I want to lose a dirty election,” he said at the Young America’s Foundation event. “So to that end, let’s just make sure it’s legit. And that’s what we’re in the process of doing. And if it is, then great, pass that baton.”
The day after the hard-fought election, Bevin hinted without offering evidence that there had been “irregularities” in voting. A conservative political activist put out robocalls urging Kentuckians to report suspicious activity or voter fraud.
The election results showed the governor — an ally of President Trump, who campaigned for Bevin the night before the election — trailing Beshear by more than 5,000 votes out of more than 1.4 million cast. Beshear’s lead is less than 0.4 percentage points.
Beshear, the state attorney general and the son of a two-term Kentucky governor, declared victory and turned his attention toward the Dec. 10 inauguration.
The Kentucky contest was watched closely for early signs of how the impeachment furor in Washington might affect Trump and other Republicans. Bevin railed against the inquiry and illegal immigration, while Beshear kept his focus on state issues such as education, healthcare and pensions.
Across Kentucky, county boards of election will convene Thursday to check their voting machines and absentee ballots to verify the vote count. This will not be a recount, meaning officials will not check individual ballots.
Bevin would have 30 days to contest the outcome once it is certified by the state Board of Elections, which is scheduled to meet Nov. 21. Contesting an election could put the outcome in the hands of the GOP-led Legislature.
The last time Kentucky lawmakers decided a governor’s race was the 1899 election, in a dispute marked by the assassination of the Democrat who was declared the winner.
“I fully expect the recanvass will confirm the results,” longtime Kentucky political commentator Al Cross said Wednesday. “And at that point, the governor will have to decide whether he wants to put the Legislature through a painful experience and put a cloud over Andy Beshear’s inauguration or act with grace and hand over power.”
Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers said last week that if the recanvass didn’t significantly alter the election count, the governor should concede. Bevin would have to overcome “a very high bar” to have any chance of winning a challenge to the election, Stivers said.
The state’s most powerful Republican, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, said this week that he was “sorry Matt came up short,” adding that the recanvass was unlikely to change the results.