By BRUCE SCHREINER
FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Republican Gov. Matt Bevin conceded to Democratic archnemesis Andy Beshear on Thursday, putting an end to Kentucky’s bitterly fought governor’s race.
Bevin, an ally of President Donald Trump, made the dramatic announcement outside his statehouse office on the same day election officials across Kentucky double-checked vote totals at his request.
"We’re going to have a change in the governorship based upon the vote of the people," Bevin said at the news conference.
Members of Bevin’s administration watched solemnly as the pugnacious governor graciously wished Beshear — the state’s attorney general — well in his new role.
"I truly want the best for Andy Beshear as he moves forward. I genuinely want him to be successful, I genuinely want this state to be successful," Bevin said.
Last week’s election results showed Bevin trailing Beshear by more than 5,000 votes out of more than 1.4 million cast, for a lead of less than 0.4 percentage points.
In the days after the election, Bevin had steadfastly refused to concede while hinting, without offering evidence, that there had been "irregularities" in the voting.
Bevin, however, faced a growing chorus of state Republicans urging him to accept the results of the recanvass unless he could point to evidence of substantial voter fraud.
Beshear, the son of a former two-term Kentucky governor, already declared victory and has been preparing to become governor in December.
The Kentucky contest was watched closely for early signs of how the impeachment furor in Washington might affect Trump and other Republicans. Bevin railed against the inquiry and illegal immigration in trying to nationalize the race, while Beshear kept his focus on state issues such as education, health care and pensions
Bevin could have contested the outcome once it was certified by the state Board of Elections, which is scheduled to meet Nov. 21. Contesting an election could have put the outcome in the hands of the GOP-led legislature. The last time Kentucky lawmakers decided a governor’s race was the 1899 election, in a dispute marked by the assassination of the Democrat who was declared the winner.
Beshear’s upset win gives Democrats a victory in a state that had been trending heavily toward Republican in recent years.
Beshear followed a disciplined campaign style focused on what he termed "kitchen table" issues, such as health care and education, while capitalizing on Bevin’s penchant for making enemies of teachers and other groups. The new governor-elect avoided talking about Trump, impeachment or other polarizing national issues that risked energizing his opponent’s conservative base.
Trump loomed large in the race as Bevin stressed his alliance with the Republican president in TV ads, tweets and speeches. Trump carried Kentucky by a landslide in winning the presidency in 2016 and remains popular in the state. The president took center stage in the campaign with his election-eve rally in Lexington to energize his supporters to head to the polls for his fellow Republican.
But the combative Bevin was unable to overcome a series of self-inflicted wounds, highlighted by a running feud with teachers who opposed his efforts to revamp the state’s woefully underfunded public pension systems. Beshear effectively exploited the feud, branding Bevin as a bully.
Bevin lashed out at teachers who used sick days to rally at Kentucky’s Capitol. In 2018, Bevin asserted without evidence that an unidentified child who had been left home alone somewhere in the state had been sexually assaulted on a day of mass school closings as teachers rallied. He apologized but doubled down earlier this year by connecting a girl’s shooting in Louisville with school closings caused by teacher protests.
The election outcome settles a bitter rivalry between Beshear and Bevin.
As attorney general, Beshear sued Bevin to challenge several of his policy and executive decisions. Beshear challenged Bevin’s actions to make wholesale changes to boards and commissions. In the highest-profile case, one of Beshear’s lawsuits led Kentucky’s Supreme Court to strike down a Bevin-supported pension law on procedural grounds last year.
Associated Press Writer Dylan Lovan contributed to this report from Louisville, Kentucky.