WASHINGTON — The governor’s race is too close to call in Kentucky, NBC News projects, one of three states with off-year elections Tuesday that will test both President Donald Trump’s ability to motivate Republican voters in the midst of the impeachment inquiry and Democrats’ chances of capitalizing on his unpopularity ahead of next year’s presidential election.
Trump injected himself into two governors’ races in the South, holding a rally in Tupelo, Mississippi, for Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves last Friday and then traveling to Lexington, Kentucky, on Monday to boost Gov. Matt Bevin’s re-election campaign.
Polls closed in Kentucky at 7:00 p.m. ET, while polls closed in Mississippi at 8:00 p.m ET.
In Kentucky, the candidates were neck and neck, with 69 pecent of precincts reporting. Bevin was leading with 49.1 percent of the vote, or 439,004 votes, to Democrat Andy Beshear’s 48.9 percent, or 437,536 votes.
Both Reeves and Bevin have aligned themselves closely with Trump and argued that their Democratic opponents are too liberal. But polling shows both races surprisingly competitive, and Democrats think they have a shot at winning one or both races thanks to suburban voters’ distaste of the president.
“I can’t believe this is a competitive race,” Trump said Friday in Mississippi. “It’s like, embarrassing.”
In Kentucky, Bevin is one of the least popular governors in the country, according to the Morning Consult poll, due in part to a history of incendiary comments and fights over public teachers and health care.
Bevin is hoping Trump can help motivate Republicans who might not bother turning out for him alone, with a closing campaign ad tying Democrat rival Beshear, the state’s attorney general, to “socialists in Washington (who) want to impeach Trump.”
“President Trump and Governor Bevin are making Kentucky great again,” the narrator of the ad says over a photo of the two men getting off Air Force One.
“Talk to the average person. Ask the next 100 people who come in here if they care about this impeachment process, and they will tell you almost to a person that they do because they find it to be a charade,” Bevin said Tuesday at his polling place. “We don’t appreciate when a handful of knuckleheads in Washington abdicate their responsibility as elected officials and try to gin up things that are not true because they can’t handle the fact that Hillary Clinton didn’t win.”
Beshear, the son of the last Democratic governor in the state, Steve Beshear (who served two terms, 2007 to 2015), has focused on bread-and-butter issues, including defending the Obamacare Medicaid expansion enacted by his father, and on his ability to work with Trump. But he does align with national Democrats in support of abortion rights, putting him at odds with the bulk of Kentuckians.
“This is not about who is in the White House,” Beshear said Tuesday before the polls closed. “It’s about what’s going on in your house. It’s about the fact a governor can’t affect federal policy but a governor can certainly impact public education, pensions, healthcare and jobs — four issues that Matt Bevin has been wrong on and we’re going to do a lot of right.”
In Mississippi, Democrat Jim Hood, the state’s attorney general, has earned a nickname as “the last Democrat in Dixie” after winning four statewide elections as attorney general by sounding nothing like a national Democrat.
His ads feature him hunting, repairing machinery and talking about God, and he’s vowed to continue defending the state’s strict new anti-abortion law in court if elected. “I bait my own hook. Carry my own gun. And drive my own truck,” he says in one recent ad.
Reeves has nonetheless called Hood a “liberal and phony” who wants to take residents’ guns, and a closing ad argued that Hood, as attorney general, sued Trump but “refused to challenge Obama, even one time.”
“Now liberals are impeaching Trump. Do you stand with our president and Tate Reeves, or with the liberals and Jim Hood?” the narrator asks.
“All I know about Jim Hood is he fought very hard to elect crooked Hillary Clinton and Barack Hussein Obama,” Trump said Friday at the Tupelo rally. “He wanted Obama to win so badly and then he wanted Hillary to win, and that’s not the kind of guy we need here, not Mississippi.”
Polls have also closed in Virginia, where a 2017 Democratic wave was the first real bellwether of what would come in the 2018 midterms, every seat in both chambers of the state Legislature is up for grabs and Democrats maintain they have a good chance of winning complete control of the state for the first time in years.
Money has poured in at unprecedented levels, as Democrats and gun control activists contest seats in wealthy suburbs outside Washington and Richmond that were until recently GOP strongholds in the economically booming state.
Trump is not campaigning in Virginia, but Vice President Mike Pence held a rally there on Saturday.
“Everything is on the line in these elections, and Virginians are deciding that radical socialists have no place in the state Legislature,” said Austin Chambers, the president of the Republican State Leadership Committee, a national group that supports GOP candidates in state legislative race.
Seitz-Wald reported from Washington and Hillyard reported from Kentucky.
The post Kentucky governor race too close to call in elections testing Trump’s political power appeared first on NBC News.