State representative and Republican candidate for governor Robert Goforth speaking at a news conference in Louisville on Friday | Photo by Joe Sonka

While most political observers view his bid to unseat incumbent Gov. Matt Bevin as a long shot, state representative and Republican candidate for governor Robert Goforth told reporters in Louisville Friday morning that his campaign is surging with momentum and ready to shock the world in Kentucky’s primary election on Tuesday.

“I fully expect to win on May 21,” said Goforth, alongside his running mate, Michael Hogan. “Our campaign is surging right now. The momentum is building statewide … we keep hearing the same thing: Fight ’til the end and we will win. And that’s what we’re doing.”

The only public polling on the Republican gubernatorial primary suggests that such confidence isn’t warranted, as one released by the polling firm Cygnal this week found Bevin with support from 56% of likely Republican voters, while Goforth placed far back in second with 18%.

Goforth criticized that poll as flawed and biased, countering that his own campaign’s internal polling looks “very promising” and “fantastic.”

Asked to reveal the results from his internal polling, Goforth said he was not allowed to do so without the permission of the firm his campaign hired. His campaign manager, TJ Litafik, would later tell reporters that their polling showed Bevin “well below 50%,” but did not reveal anything else.

Goforth also pointed to unscientific online and social media polls that have shown him beating Bevin, as well as numerous polls from national firms showing that Bevin is one of, if not the most, unpopular governors in the country.

“We are the only ticket that can win in November for the Republican Party,” said Goforth. “His approval rating in Kentucky sends a message to people that he cannot be re-elected in November, no matter what. Their vote will be wasted on May 21 if they vote for Matt Bevin, and who wants to waste their vote? Nobody.”

While polling shows that even one-third of Republicans in the state have soured on Bevin, the governor’s campaign has put out advertisements showing Bevin as a strong ally of President Donald Trump, who remains very popular among Republicans in Kentucky. Additionally, Vice President Mike Pence recently appeared at a rally with Bevin endorsing his campaign.

Asked if his campaign can overcome Bevin’s apparent support from the White House, Goforth questioned if that was really the case, as Trump has never personally indicated his support for Bevin’s re-election or traveled to Kentucky to stump for him as he has other candidates in the past. Goforth also reiterated his early support for Trump in 2015, saying “I have four-year-old triplets that were wearing Trump shirts when they were one year old.”

Goforth’s campaign has focused on criticizing Bevin for his verbal attacks against protesting teachers and legislative efforts to alter their pensions and divert state funds toward charters school, in addition to defining himself as a more vehement opponent of abortion rights.

Asked if he would support Kentucky passing an abortion law similar to what was passed in Alabama this week — making almost all abortions, including in cases of rape and incest, a felony with a potential 99-year sentence — Goforth said he would “100%.”

As for exemptions, Goforth said he was open to the possibility of abortion in the case of “medical emergencies that the mother’s life is in danger,” but not for rape and incest, as “we shouldn’t punish the innocent child, we should punish the rapist for their crimes.”

Goforth added that Kentucky and many other states in the past year “have done a really great job” passing new anti-abortion legislation, pointing to the state’s new law making abortion after six weeks a Class D felony, adding that he was the first to file and sponsor such a law.

Asked what criminal penalties he would want to see for abortion in Kentucky, Goforth indicated that he wanted to go much further than a Class D felony because when “you take someone’s life, it shouldn’t just be a fine.” He added that “murder is murder and that’s a Class A felony.”

Those convicted of Class A felonies in Kentucky can get up to life in prison, while those convicted of capital murder can be sentenced to death.

Goforth added that only doctors performing abortion should be criminally liable and not the women who pay the doctor to perform the procedure, as the woman “is seeking help from a medical professional and he or she has an obligation to do the right thing, and that’s to protect all parties involved.”

Goforth — a veteran and pharmacist from East Bernstadt in eastern Kentucky — also lobbed criticism at Bevin for alienating the supermajority of Republicans in both chambers of the General Assembly, plus allowing the proliferation so-called racinos with slot machines throughout the state.

Opposing such racinos for being unconstitutional and “predatory” toward the vulnerable, Goforth added that Bevin hasn’t even taken advantage of these facilities by taxing them like other states, wasting what he said was $2 billion in tax revenue for the state coffers.

“Everywhere we go people say they want a change,” said Goforth. “They want to head in a different direction. They don’t think that Matt Bevin has Kentuckians at heart with all the failed policy that he has, his self-serving agenda, continuously time and time again taking care of his buddies … they’re ready for someone who is going to put people first. And that’s what we’re going to do.”

Asked if he would endorse Bevin this fall if he loses on Tuesday, Goforth said he would never endorse a Democrat but didn’t “want to go down the road of hypotheticals,” as “I fully expect to win.”

“Maybe you should ask Gov. Bevin if he’s going to endorse me because that’s the true question,” said Goforth. “Is he going to even stick around after I beat him on Tuesday? Or is he going to pack his bags and head to Washington, D.C., for one of those jobs that everyone has suspected that he’s headed for?”

Bevin declined all offers to participate in primary debates with Goforth and the two other Republican candidates running limited campaigns, William Woods and Ike Lawrence.

Goforth raised a very small amount of money for his campaign but has been able to buy significant air time for his TV ads and political mailers throughout the state due to personally contributing $750,000 to his own campaign.

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Joe Sonka
Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]