Matt Bevin’s thin 83-vote victory in Tuesday’s Republican primary for governor appears likely to withstand an upcoming recanvass of the votes, but his effort to mend fences with Republicans still upset by his refusal to endorse Sen. Mitch McConnell last year has raised eyebrows.
Speaking before a group of Republicans in Lexington on Wednesday, Bevin was asked how he would win back the support of those who remained upset that he did not support McConnell in the general election after his blowout loss that May. Bevin took issue with the premise of the question, blaming the media for creating that perception, which “is entirely untrue.”
“I literally know of no other elected official in this state who went to more events between May and November in support of candidates and support of Mitch McConnell and other down ticket races than I did,” said Bevin. “I knocked on doors, I made phone calls, I wrote checks myself, and I physically attended fundraiser after fundraiser.”
That claim was news to the many McConnell staffers and supporters who continually blasted Bevin for not endorsing or explicitly supporting McConnell that fall. It’s also news to the many members of the media (this reporter included) who asked Bevin many times if he would vote for or encourage others to vote for McConnell, never receiving an affirmative reply.
While Bevin actively endorsed several down ticket candidates like Phil Moffett and Jenean Hampton, and told people not to vote for McConnell’s opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes, his additional suggestion that he “wrote checks” for McConnell is false, as Federal Election Commission records show he never donated to McConnell.
According to the Herald Leader, Bevin also said that if anyone doubted that he worked hard to support McConnell in that campaign, Larry Cox — and old friend and advisor of McConnell — would vouch for him.
In a phone conversation with Insider Louisville, Cox did nothing of the sort, saying that Bevin was completely making that up.
“No, I cannot do any of that,” said Cox, struggling to contain shocked laughter. “I don’t know why he would even invoke my name. That is inviting the discrediting of what he had to say. I am lost, I really am lost. No, there was never any evidence of support for Mitch McConnell of which I’m aware at all.”
Cox said he wants to see the Republican Party unite for the fall elections, but Bevin’s falsehoods right off of the bat aren’t doing the party any favors.
“It’s in my interest as a longtime Republican activist to see a party that pulls together, but my gracious, I also would like to protect my integrity just a little, too,” said Cox. “Surely you know it really is up to the nominee to pull the party together. And when you pick out somebody like me… and quote them with what is nothing but a lie, that is probably not doing a whole lot to help party cohesion. So I don’t know where it goes from here. This is not an element of unity building.”
Bill Stone, the former chairman of the Jefferson County Republican Party, says he’s never seen any third-party evidence, videotape or audiotape in which Bevin expressed support for McConnell.
“It’s hard to mend fences when you don’t tell the truth,” said Stone.
Stone adds that Bevin should just come clean and apologize about his actions in the 2014 general election so that the party can unite.
“I think if I were Matt Bevin, I’d say let me come clean,” says Stone. “Say, ‘I ran a very hard race against Sen. McConnell, I was very disappointed to have lost, I was upset with the campaign, and I just stayed home. But I’m a different guy today and I realize that was wrong, and I ask for people’s forgiveness.’ That’s how I’d handle it.”
Stone also criticized WHAS radio host Mandy Connell for believing Bevin’s story that he actively supported McConnell, saying she “is going to lose credibility real fast if she continues to take every word that Matt tells her as gospel. She’s going to get herself pretty embarrassed before it’s over with.”
Stone added Bevin has a chance to beat Democratic nominee Jack Conway this fall because Kentucky is a “center-right” state, but defeated Republican primary candidates James Comer or Hal Heiner would have surely won.
Though Comer said on Tuesday he would not call for a full recount of the votes if the recanvass did not significantly alter the vote margin, Stone said that Comer should request a full recount of the votes anyway, adding that Comer may have been confused about the difference between the two that night.
Stone accused Bevin of having a lack of humility on election night, saying “when someone wins a race by 83 votes and then parades around like he was the unanimous vote for the Republican Party? That lack of humility is not really good politics.”