FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) - The 2018 primary election isn’t until May 22, but there is already a lot of buzz for next year, when Kentucky’s governor and other state constitutional offices will be contested.
The question of what Gov. Matt Bevin will do in 2019 remains a mystery. When asked about it again on Thursday, he offered a wait-and-see attitude. “We’ll see,” he said. “We have eight months to make that decision.”
Dr. D. Stephen Voss, a political science professor at the University of Kentucky, said strategies in politics differ depending on the situation. Voss said he expects Bevin to have an opponent in the 2019 primary because of the splintered state GOP.
“Primary challenges are uncommon, but with the governor's low popularity level and the clear split inside the state GOP, I would be surprised if no one challenged Bevin,” he said. “The bigger question is whether he has to fend off a challenge from someone prominent, or only needs to dispatch a minor political figure who is hoping to get lucky or who is motivated more by a cause than by an expectation of victory.”
A young group of statewide elected officials in the GOP works in Bevin’s favor, Voss said.
“One hopeful sign for the governor is that the other statewide elected officials in his party are relatively young people who can wait for an open election rather than gambling on a long-shot primary challenge that might anger certain members of their party,” he said. “A member of Congress might be more likely to take on a primary battle.”
Candidates for state offices can’t file until the day after the Nov. 6 general election, but to begin fundraising efforts, a letter of intent must be filed with The Kentucky Registry of Election Finance, and some have already done so.
Two Republican slates have filed letters of intent so far. Bryan Messenger and running mate Michael Bullock is one slate. Messenger opened a Go Fund Me account in July 2017 and so far has received one pledge of $50. His page has a $5,000 goal. William Woods and Justin Miller form the other one. Woods, who lives in Union, unsuccessfully sought the GOP nomination for the 66th District House seat in 2012.
No Democrats have filed slates with the Registry but there has been a lot of conjecture with several candidates emerging including Attorney General Andy Beshear, arguably Bevin’s biggest political rival. After the Executive Branch Ethics Commission ruled last year that only if Beshear was not running for governor could he investigate Bevin, talk of an investigation into Bevin has disappeared.
Rep. Rocky Adkins, the House Minority Leader from Sandy Hook, has made overtures about running for governor, too. When teachers and other public employees rallied at the Capitol against the pension reforms eventually enacted by the General Assembly, Adkins spoke to the groups, in support of their efforts.
Former State Auditor Adam Edelen, who lost his reelection bid to Harmon in 2015, told the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce in July of last year that he would not run for governor in 2019. However, his name has recently resurfaced as a potential candidate.
Secretary of State Grimes is a potential candidate, since her second term in that office ends next year. Her name has also popped up for Attorney General, if Beshear decides to seek the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.
Voss adds some other names to the mix, saying, “Former State Auditor Crit Luallen and former Attorney General Jack Conway have not been as visible, and U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth seems comfortable in Congress, but those three possess the name recognition needed to launch a gubernatorial bid.”
There are other names to consider, according to Voss.
“The Democrats have some rising stars in the state legislature, such as Sen. Morgan McGarvey and Rep. James Kay, who have gained prominence since their party slipped into the minority in Frankfort, but they would need to work harder to build statewide recognition. Finally, the chatter around here has been that Matt Jones, of Kentucky Sports Radio, might plan to enter a statewide election hoping that his celebrity can turn into votes.”
Jones has also been rumored to be considering running for U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s seat in 2020.
“When a party has so many potential candidates who feasibly could make a play for the nomination, usually a dance takes place behind the scenes as people try to figure out who is considering running and what type of support they could expect if they did so,” Voss said. “Who will emerge the winner of that dance contest is something the insiders might know but not something political science can answer.”