Costa in WaPo 12:15am ET 11/6:
https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics ... story.htmlKentucky outcome embarrasses Trump and worries many Republicans ahead of 2020
By Robert Costa November 6, 2019 at 12:12 a.m. EST
Democrats’ claim of victory Tuesday in Kentucky’s gubernatorial race, as well as the Democratic takeover of the Virginia state legislature, left Republicans stumbling and increasingly uncertain about their own political fates next year tied to an embattled and unpopular president. Many allies of President Trump’s rushed to explain away the poor performance of incumbent Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R) as an anomaly, while other GOP veterans expressed alarm about the party’s failure in a state where Trump won by nearly 30 percentage points in 2016 — and where he just campaigned this week.
While Bevin was unpopular, he was also a devotee of the president, embracing Trump’s agenda and his anti-establishment persona. And in the contest’s final days, Bevin sought to cast his candidacy as a bulwark against House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry of Trump. But Bevin’s attempt to nationalize his cause by stoking conservative grievances about the impeachment process was not enough to overcome his problems nor was Trump’s raucous rally for the governor on Monday — raising questions about Trump’s political strength as he faces a barrage of challenges and a difficult path to reelection. The outcome — with Democrat Andy Beshear claiming victory with a lead of several thousand votes and Bevin refusing to concede — underscored how Republicans are struggling to navigate choppy political waters as the 2020 campaign now begins in earnest. Trump continues to dominate the party, but many lawmakers are uneasy about their ability to defend his conduct and hold on to suburban support. Few Republicans, however, are willing to even lightly criticize Trump since they widely believe they will need his voters’ backing and enthusiasm in order to survive next year.
Still, the Kentucky defeat has sparked concern among the party’s donors and many longtime GOP leaders who are worried that the nonstop twists of the House impeachment inquiry and Trump’s growing fury are making it increasingly difficult for Republicans to make a clear and compelling case to voters. “It was a rough night,” said Scott Reed, the chief political strategist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “The Republican Party is lacking message discipline, and that needs to be addressed. There is a lot of positive news around President Trump’s governing on the economy, on regulations and judges, and it seems to be overwhelmed by the drama.”
“It’s a definite shot across the bow, even though Republicans picked up the state attorney general position in Kentucky,” said former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele, referring to Republican Daniel Cameron, who became the first African American to ever win that office. “But losing the governorship is a smack at both Mitch McConnell and the president, sending up a cautionary note.” Steele added, “Just because Trump shows up doesn’t mean an automatic win anymore.” Allies of McConnell, the Senate majority leader, argued that Bevin’s loss did not indicate any looming trouble for him, who is up for reelection in 2020 and is working to hold the Senate GOP together amid the impeachment debate. “Republicans won every office on the ballot except [Bevin’s],” Scott Jennings, a longtime McConnell adviser, wrote on Twitter. “Some unique candidate problems. GOP brand was fine elsewhere.” Some Republicans, however, also viewed Beshear’s appeals to moderation as a sign that Republicans cannot take red-state races for granted.
The gubernatorial races in Kentucky and Mississippi came one year after Democrats made major inroads in statehouses, including flipping seven governorships and more than 400 state legislative seats. Many of those gains were in Midwestern or coastal states that formed the backbone of the backlash to Trump in the 2018 midterm elections. Louisiana also holds a runoff election Saturday to decide the governor’s race there. In 2016, Trump carried Kentucky by about 30 points, Louisiana by about 20 points and Mississippi by about 17 points.