Nobody predicted that Matt Bevin would beat Jack Conway by nine points. Nobody. The Bluegrass poll had Conway up by five points just a few days ago. We learned last year that the Bluegrass poll was wildly off target when it had Grimes and McConnell deadlocked within weeks of the 2014 election for U.S. Senate. Of course, McConnell won handily by 15 points. Takeaway: Don't believe every poll. Voters should be especially wary of the Bluegrass Poll from now on.
Negative ads don't always work: Voters in Western Kentucky and across much of the Commonwealth were inundated with mostly negative mailers trashing Bevin. Many came from the Kentucky Democratic Party and the Democratic Super PAC Kentucky Family Values. Both spent oodles of cash and flooded the tv and radio airwaves with negative attack ads. They repeatedly mentioned Bevin's name without mentioning Conway or promoting his name. This amounted to free name id for Bevin. They campaigned on charges that were disproven. Several people I talked to over the past month told me they were worn out by the negative ads. This had the effect of turning Conway-leaning voters away. It also emboldened Republicans to vote for Bevin. While Bevin certainly had some flaws that were exploitable, the Conway camp overplayed their hand and their negative smear campaign ended up working against them. Takeaway: A Bevin victory soundly repudiated the idea that negativing campaigning always works.
Over saturation advertising can backfire: It is clear that the Democratic party, Conway campaign and pro-Conway Super PACs outspent Bevin and pro-Bevin PACs. However, they oversaturated certain media markets, mostly with negative ads that voters grew tired of and eventually became disgusted with. Takeaway: Respect the voters sensibilities. Don't clutter their mailboxes with negative ads on a regular basis.
Money doesn't win elections, candidates do: Bevin was clearly outspent but he was a better candidate. He is winsome, a natural campaigner, and connected better with the voters than his bristly opponent. However, he often bristled himself when questioned by big media. This apparently wasn't so bad. Perhaps because big media (Lexington Herald-Leader and Louisville Courier-Journal) is not trusted by a significant number of voters. Bevin's candidacy contrasted well with a status-quo opponent who had little vision for tackling tough issues facing Kentucky. Bevin's military service, business experience and solution-oriented approach appealed to voters. His outsider status helped in a time where Frankfort is distrusted. Takeaway: Money helps but better candidates win elections.
Candidates must share a compelling vision: It is no secret that Kentucky is facing many serious challenges. The question voters asked was which candidate could best address the issues and challenges facing Kentucky. Matt Bevin touted his Blueprint for a better Kentucky and openly shared his ideas. Jack Conway focussed on Bevin's shortcomings and spent much of his time on the attack. Voters were left uncertain if Conway would meet the challenge. Takeaway: Gubernatorial candidates must present a compelling vision of leadership to the voters.
Planned Parenthood is not your friend: Jack Conway was an ally to the abortion industry. He was financially supported by Planned Parenthood's PAC in a previous campaign. Planned Parenthood engaged the race on his behalf this election. Takeaway: Political connections with organizations that deal in the dismembered remains of the unborn (PP is the number one abortionist in the nation) is toxic.
Religious freedom matters: When Jack Conway was asked last month on public radio about Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, he treated the issue almost as a distraction. Jack Conway refused to uphold Rowan County clerk Kim Davis' claim to religious freedom. He was of the "you must follow the law and do your job or quit" ilk. Many voters saw this as hypocritical. Conway appealed to his conscience when he refused to appeal a ruling that struck down Kentucky's marriage law. Yet, he didn't respect Kim Davis conscience. Values voters rallied for religious freedom at the state capitol in August. An estimated 6000 were in attendance. Another rally of similar size, although underreported by the media, took place in Rowan County the day Kim Davis was released from jail. Takaway: Religious freedom was one of the compelling issues that motivated conservatives to vote for Bevin.
Outside candidates can win without full buy-in from the GOP establishment: Matt Bevin received minimal help from the Republican donor class in Kentucky. Much of the mainline establishment hadn't fully recovered from Bevin challenging Sen. Mitch McConnell in last year's primary for U.S. Senate. Bevin was also criticized for not reaching out to established Republicans. Apparently, the path to victory didn't include much help from the GOP establishment. Sen. Mitch McConnell endorsed Bevin and hosted a fundraiser for him. He also did a robo call just days before the election. Overall, the GOP establishment wasn't fully engaged. This includes the Republican Party of Kentucky. Their involvement with Bevin was minimal compared to their involvement with Sen. David William's gubernatorial bid in 2011. Williams only garnered 35 percent of the vote then. Takeaway: GOP outsiders have discovered they can win without full engagement of the mainline party.
Democrats are scrambling: Republicans won five of seven seats yesterday. It was projected to be the other way around with Republicans winning two seats at best. Interestingly, at the end of the night, Democrats invoked moral values and Biblical themes and implicitly recognized that social issues played a key role in huge GOP upsets. House Speaker Greg Stumbo delivered what sounded at times like a sermon. At one point he said "the principles of the Bible become the principles of our party." While he admitted that he never read the entire Bible, he was pretty sure Jesus wasn't a Republican. Speaker Stumbo's speech came across as condescending and disrespectful. The question is: if Democrats like Greg Stumbo are sincere about steering their party in a socially conservative direction, they can prove it by defunding Planned Parenthood and passing pro-life legislation in the 2016 legislative session. Scripture says that "you will know them by their fruits." That's in the Bible Speaker Stumbo.