Democratic candidates for governor Andy Beshear, Adam Edelen and Rocky Adkins (left to right) spoke at an event in PRP Saturday morning. | Photo by Joe Sonka

The three main contenders in the Democratic primary for governor on Tuesday swung through Louisville this weekend for their last joint appearance at a political event, delivering their standard stump speeches in a county that will play a major factor in determining the party’s nominee this fall.

Rocky Adkins, Andy Beshear and Adam Edelen spoke at an annual pre-election breakfast at a Pleasure Ridge Park fire station on Saturday morning, kicking off a full weekend of political events for Edelen and Beshear in the city that contains over 20% of the state’s registered Democratic voters.

Adkins — who whipped up the southwest Jefferson County crowd with his typical refrain of being “a common man to bring common sense” back to Frankfort — is not expected to place better than Beshear and Edelen in the state’s largest urban areas of Louisville and Lexington, but is aiming to win large swaths of rural counties with more conservative Democrats like him to make up for that deficit.

That is exactly what state Rep. Russ Meyer, D-Nicholasville, told Insider Louisville that he expected to happen on Tuesday, as “Rocky’s hard work and ground game is what’s going to pull him through.”

Meyer, who represents Jessamine County, just outside of Lexington, said he expects Adkins to win not just his district but other counties and areas bordering urban counties, running up the score higher as you move into more rural counties.

However, registered Democrats in rural counties have decreased in recent years, and many of those still registered are now solidly Republicans voters, a result of the state’s seismic political shift over the past decade.

Asked if there were enough Democratic voters left in rural areas to put Adkins over the top, Meyer said: “We’re sure going to find out Tuesday. I don’t know the answer to that, but it will be really interesting to see.”

While Adkins spent the rest of the weekend campaigning in rural counties, both Beshear and Edelen took over a half-dozen trips through parts of Louisville to greet volunteers and potential voters, with both taking a particular focus on areas with high African-American populations.

Beshear spent the rest of Saturday meeting students at the University of Louisville and a diner on Dixie Highway, in between pressing the flesh with former Mayor Jerry Abramson at his side at a festival in the Old Louisville neighborhood. On Sunday, he visited two soul food restaurants in Louisville and canvassed through a Shively neighborhood.

Andy Beshear | Photo by Joe Sonka

Beshear’s stump speech Saturday morning echoed his campaign’s touting of his record fighting Gov. Matt Bevin as attorney general, closing with a reminder that he only won by a few thousand votes in 2015 and that turnout would likely determine the winner of the primary on Tuesday.

Before the event, Beshear told Insider that he will do well throughout the state on Tuesday, as “we will probably be the only campaign that runs strong in every single region,” mentioning “large crowds” at each stop in western Kentucky a day earlier. He conceded that Adkins would have a lot of support in eastern Kentucky, but said, “I know that they are excited to support us in the general” after his victory.

Beshear’s early polling in the race showed that he had a commanding lead over both Adkins and Edelen, but subsequent polling from those campaigns have found that the race is tightening — with Edelen and a PAC supporting him placing more television advertisements than his two opponents combined.

With a projected statewide turnout of just 12.5% for the primary, the race could be up for grabs if a candidate is able to energize and turn out his base of support relative to that of his opponents.

Just as he did in his stump speech launching his run for governor in January, Edelen told the crowd in Louisville on Saturday that he will push to build a “modern Kentucky” and offer more progressive ideas than the “stale politicians of the past,” receiving applause lines when he cited his endorsement by the Fairness Campaign and advocacy for LGBTQ and abortion rights.

Edelen attended several events meeting voters in west Louisville on Saturday and Sunday, in addition to going through the Highlands neighborhood, while his running mate, Gill Holland, held an event for young professionals in Butchertown.

If Edelen’s campaign strategy is to be successful on Tuesday, he will need to not just win large, progressive urban areas like Louisville and Lexington, but win them with large margins. Even with that strategy, the campaign expects to exceed expectations in the rest of the state, including the mid-size counties containing tens of thousands of registered Democratic voters that are up for grabs.

Louisville and Lexington combined have nearly 28% of registered Democratic voters, while the 10 counties with the most registered Democrats combined makes up 44% of the statewide total for the party.

State Rep. Attica Scott of Louisville, one of the most progressive Democrats in the General Assembly, told Insider at the breakfast event on Saturday that while she has been frustrated by this Democratic primary — she considered but ultimately decided against running for governor herself — she will support whoever wins the primary this fall.

Scott said that whoever won the party’s nomination would have a good chance to defeat Gov. Matt Bevin in the fall — who is presumably the strong favorite to win the Republican primary — so long as that Democrat “makes sure they are focusing on all Kentucky … You’re not just the candidate for public employees. You’re not just the candidate for rural Kentucky. You’re not just the candidate for white men, you’re the candidate for all of us and you have to act like it.”

While not revealing who she is voting for in the primary, she did take a veiled shot at Adkins’ record on abortion rights, regretting that the party was lifting up “candidates who are clearly against my right as a woman and my daughter’s right as a young woman to make her own reproductive health decisions. … So, you’re saying that as a woman, you could care less about my vote.”

“Whoever comes out has to be a fighter,” said Scott. “The time for being nice is over. The time for ‘can’t we all just get along’… no, we can’t just all get along because if you are someone who’s not willing to go toe to toe with the governor when he says that abortion is killing more black people than any other disease, then I have a problem. If you’re not going to go toe to toe with him when he says things like that, then no you don’t have my support.”

The primary is on Tuesday and voting will take place from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Registered voters can find their precinct location here.

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]