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Beshear touts kitchen table issues to deflect national focus

November 2, 2019 GMT
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FILE - In this Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2019 file photo, Sheree Paolello of WLWT moderates the final gubernatorial debate between Democratic candidate Andy Beshear, center, and Gov. Matt Bevin in Highland Heights, Ky. (Albert Cesare/The Cincinnati Enquirer via AP, Pool)
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FILE - In this Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2019 file photo, Sheree Paolello of WLWT moderates the final gubernatorial debate between Democratic candidate Andy Beshear, center, and Gov. Matt Bevin in Highland Heights, Ky. (Albert Cesare/The Cincinnati Enquirer via AP, Pool)

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Banking on “kitchen table” issues to carry him into the Kentucky governor’s office, Democrat Andy Beshear has stuck to education and health care themes that he says hit closest to home with voters in the bluegrass state.

It’s a contrast to the strategy of Republican incumbent Matt Bevin, who brings up impeachment and other national issues while campaigning with Donald Trump’s surrogates to reflect his alliance with the president.

Beshear kept pushing his state-centric strategy during a campaign swing Saturday through eastern Kentucky, where he’s trying to win back voters who flocked to Trump’s side in the 2016 presidential election.

“The next three days are going to determine the next four years in this state,” Beshear said during an appearance in Pikeville. “You all know what’s on the line — the future of public education, because it doesn’t survive another four years under Matt Bevin. The future of rural health care, because it doesn’t survive another four years under Matt Bevin.”

Bevin also campaigned in eastern Kentucky on Saturday. He defends his support of public education, saying he’s made sure teachers’ pensions have been fully funded and 100% of lottery funds are going toward education. The governor also touts the state’s economic performance during his tenure, pointing to job growth, low unemployment and private-sector investments.

“These are just seeds in the grounds,” he said at a Friday rally in London, Kentucky. “These seeds will bear fruit for generations to come.”

But the governor’s effort to nationalize the race was on full display at the rally, headlined by Vice President Mike Pence. He was the latest in a parade of officials from Trump’s orbit to call for Bevin’s reelection. Attempting to close the deal will be the president himself when he speaks at a Monday night rally in Lexington.

Pence and Bevin tried to turn the governor’s race into a referendum on impeachment as the probe of Trump by House Democrats heats up. Bevin said he wants a resounding win in Tuesday’s election, saying it will send a “mighty roar” reflecting Kentuckians’ opposition to the impeachment process.

“This will show all the naysayers and all poo-poohers and all the impeaching wannabe-type crowd that this nation is not going to have any more of that kind of hogwash,” Bevin said.

Beshear, the state’s attorney general, has deflected impeachment questions while keeping his focus on state issues like pay raises for public school teachers and continued access to health care.

He swiped at Bevin’s upbeat economic message, telling the Pikeville crowd: “We have got a governor that brags about prosperity, but do you see it right here?”

On Friday, while Bevin was campaigning with Pence, Beshear was playing up his endorsement from the state Fraternal Order of Police, which represents thousands of law enforcement officers.

Drew Fox, government affairs chair for the state FOP, pointed to Beshear’s promise to protect pensions for public employees while downplaying the role of national issues in the campaign.

“We don’t care about the national politics in this particular race,” he said. “This is about Kentucky and what’s right for Kentucky.”

Bevin’s term has been overshadowed by his efforts to overhaul the state’s chronically underfunded public pension systems. Wendell Short, who attended Bevin’s rally in London, said in an interview Friday that he admired Bevin’s willingness to take on the politically hot-button issue.

“He’s the first one, to me, who took the bull by the horns,” Short said. “He’s trying to do something about it. I like that. He’s not just being a ‘yes’ man, trying to please everybody. He’s trying to fix problems.”

The two bitter rivals are offering voters stark choices on a host of issues.

Bevin supports charter schools as part of a school choice agenda. Beshear opposes them, saying they’ll divert money from public schools.

The governor wants to require some “able-bodied” Medicaid recipients to get a job, go to school or volunteer to keep their benefits. Beshear vowed to rescind the “waiver,” saying it would callously deprive tens of thousands of health coverage and hurt rural hospitals. A federal judge blocked the work requirements. Bevin’s administration is appealing.

Bevin is an outspoken abortion opponent. Beshear supports abortion rights but backs “reasonable restrictions,” especially on late-term procedures.

Beshear wants to legalize casino gambling to raise revenue for underfunded public pension systems. Bevin sees expanded gambling as a “sucker’s bet.”