The closely watched governor’s race in Kentucky between incumbent GOP Gov. Matt Bevin and Democratic challenger Andy Beshear remains too close to call, according to The Associated Press, despite a celebratory speech by Beshear.
Beshear, the Democratic attorney general and a Kentucky political heir, held a slim lead over Bevin, 49.3% to 48.7%, according to unofficial results from Kentucky’s state board of elections at the time of the call.
The margin was about 8,700 votes out of over 1.2 million cast with 99.17% of precincts reporting.
A year before the presidential election in 2020, Republicans saw their grip on a state won four years ago by President Donald Trump slipping, despite the party’s heavyweight descending on Lexington on the eve of the election to deliver a last-minute boost for Bevin. Trump toppled Clinton in the Bluegrass state by 30 points in 2016.
“I haven’t had an opportunity yet to speak Gov. Bevin, but my expectation is that he will honor — he will honor the election that was held tonight, that he will help us make this transition,” Beshear said at his election night headquarters in Louisville. “I tell you what, we will be ready for that first day in office, and I look forward to it.”
“Tonight I want to say thank you to our union families that helped make this election happen,” he said, apparently declaring victory over Bevin. “While I believe that Jacqueline said it, let me be very clear, to our educators, this is your victory.”
The show of force from Trump and other top Republicans came as both sides navigate the politics of impeachment, which has become a dividing line in the statewide race.
Bevin, an anti-establishment Republican, sought to use the looming House impeachment investigation, and the potential backlash against Congress, to stave off his Democratic challenger. He told the crowd at his election night party in Lexington, “We are not conceding.”
“We know there have been some irregularities,” he said Tuesday night. “We want the process to be followed.”
“This isn’t a political issue, it’s an integrity issue,” he added.
Bevin focused his campaign on aligning himself with the president, who has turned the election into a referendum on impeachment, and tried to tie his opponent to the House impeachment inquiry to shore up the GOP’s base.
At the rally Monday night, Bevin made the race all about national politics — signaling that a vote for Beshear was a vote for socialism, impeachment and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“Are we going to allow evil to prevail in this country? Are we going to allow socialism to creep into our country? Are we going to allow people like Nancy Pelosi and ‘the squad’ impeach this president? … Will we stand up against these things?” he asked the crowd, which responded with a resounding “yes.”
Though the AP has yet to officially call the race, the Trump campaign attempted to mitigate some of the disappointment late Tuesday.
“The President just about dragged Gov. Matt Bevin across the finish line, helping him run stronger than expected in what turned into a very close race at the end,” said Brad Parscale, Trump 2020 campaign manager, in a statement. “A final outcome remains to be seen.”
Despite the efforts to nationalize the race, Beshear, for his part, trained his focus on Kentucky, particularly, prioritizing education and health care — two local issues that have frequently put Bevin at odds with teachers in the state — over walkouts — and the courts — over his cuts to the elder Beshear’s Medicaid expansion.
The state has a storied history of electing governors from both parties — and Beshear’s father, Steve Beshear, preceded Bevin and served for two terms.
The contest, a test of Trump’s support among Republicans, is also seen as a curtain raiser to Senate Majority Mitch McConnell’s own reelection in 2020.
Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who will ultimately certify the results, told CNN earlier Tuesday night, “At this point, we have, with over 99% of the vote in, the margin is still within about 10,000 votes, and here in the commonwealth have called it for Attorney General Beshear to be the Kentucky governor-elect for the commonwealth.”
“We will have a second governor Beshear here in the commonwealth come 2020,” she continued. “Obviously there are still options available for recounts to be requested should Bevin want to do that. At this point based on the results that we are seeing coming in, especially not only from Fayette County but from Jefferson County as well, the lead is substantial enough that we believe unlikely to be able to be made up by Gov. Bevin.”
In Virginia, the only southern state Trump lost in 2016, Democrats secured a long-awaited victory by capturing control of both the Virginia House of Delegates and state Senate.
Despite the president stopping in Kentucky and Mississippi to rally Republicans ahead of Election Day, he never campaigned in the commonwealth, a state that has been trending blue in recent years.
Democrats made significant gains in 2017 — winning 15 Republican-held seats in the state House, their largest gains since 1899, and 25 of the 40 Senate districts — putting control of the legislature in play for the first time in years. Democrats’ success was partly delivered in the suburbs, where a number of female candidates overtook Republican districts. Now, the suburban swing districts are seen as some of the most competitive parts of the state.
Virginia Democrats sought to bolster their party’s alliances on Tuesday to capture control of the general assembly — buttressed by unprecedented amounts of outside money flowing into the contests — to set the course to deliver a blue-tinted battleground in 2020.
Democrats now have full control of the state government for the first time in 25 years and as the majority party, they will have control over redistricting following the 2020 census, potentially impacting future elections in the state.
Some of the key victories of the night came when House Del. John Bell, a Democrat, defeated his Republican opponent, Geary Higgins, in Senate District 13, which encompasses parts of Loudoun and Prince William counties, and when Democrat Ghazala Hashmi, who will be the first Muslim American woman to serve in the state Senate, toppled the Republican incumbent in Senate District 10. In House District 94, Democrat Shelly Simonds secured an outright victory over Republican House Del. David Yancey in a rematch after their contest was decided by pulling a name out of a ceramic bowl in 2017.
ABC News’ Meg Cunningham contributed to this report.
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