BY JARED THOMPSON – NEWS SECTION EDITOR
Earlier tonight, individuals from various parts of the state and nation filed into Newlin Hall to see Attorney General Jack Conway square off against Matt Bevin in the latest of a series of debates in the 2015 Kentucky gubernatorial election.
It goes without question that much was at stake in tonight’s debate. The two candidates have, in recent weeks, been trading jabs on everything from Bevin’s educational history to the fine details of Kentucky’s Kynect marketplace. Matt Bevin sought to capitalize on his momentum going into the debate, with recent Survey USA polls showing Conway with a six point lead. However, University of Virginia’s Center for Politics stated that the race now “leans Republican,” an unwelcome omen for state Democrats who have only lost the Kentucky Governorship once since 1971.
Opening the debate, moderator Scott Reynolds posed questions on the topic of leadership. While Bevin took this opportunity to highlight both his humble upbringing and his private business experience, Conway steered listeners to his platform and the plan that he and his running mate Kentucky State Representative Sannie Overly had outlined pertaining to jobs and the revitalization of the Commonwealth.
On Kim Davis, Conway reiterated the position he has taken in previous debates, asserting that Davis “did not go to jail because of her religious beliefs, but went to jail because she defied a Federal Judge’s Court Order.” Bevin instead accused Conway of being inconsistent, pointing out that Conway had earlier declined to appeal a court order compelling Kentucky to recognize same-sex marriages from other states.
From there, the debate became increasingly spirited as the candidates traded blows on subjects like the economy, where Conway insisted that “Kentucky has emerged from the recession, and we’re ready to take off,” while Bevin countered that 71,000 fewer Kentuckians were working than when Conway took office as attorney general.
While debates in recent elections cycles have garnered a reputation for lacking substance and consisting of candidates talking primarily in abstractions, tonight’s debate saw both candidates offer extremely specific policy positions that highlighted the differences between the two. For example, Conway stated “I support an increase in the minimum wage…to $10.10 an hour” while Bevin quickly fired back that a comment like that was “made by someone who has never made a payroll.” Bevin, on the other side of aisle, said “I support random drug testing for recipients of social services,” citing the fact that firefighters, Kentucky State Police officers, and others had to undergo drug screening and that there should be similar expectations of those receiving social services. Conway instead urged both Bevin and the public to look to previous court rulings on the issue as well as the efficacy of the measures implemented in states like Florida.
Tonight’s debate was unique in the fact that it featured two “candidate interaction” portions that allowed the candidates to pose questions directly to each other rather than speaking through Reynolds. These sections, as one may expect, featured direct questioning of each candidate’s record and consistency. Bevin attacked Conway on his willingness to speak in favor of coal to the voters of Kentucky while also accepting money from the Sierra Club, whose “Beyond Coal” campaign seeks the complete elimination of coal as an energy source. Conway defended his record saying that he always placed Kentucky first and was “the only democratic Attorney General in the country to sue the EPA because [they] thought [the EPA] was overreaching.” For one of Conway’s questions, he returned to the issue of Bevin’s refusal to release his tax returns until after the elections, a subject of many attack ads and sound bites. Bevin fired back by saying that he would not release his tax returns because he was under no obligation to do so and if he did, the citizens of Kentucky would find that he was “a lot more generous” with his money than Conway had been—claiming that Conway had donated $18,000 while earning $5 million.
The flurry of media questions posed to the candidates after the debate serves as a not-so-subtle reminder that this gubernatorial race is anything but wrapped up. As Bevin’s experience in the Republican primary shows, he is willing to go down to the wire despite what the polls may tell him. And as Conway history in electoral politics shows, he’s no stranger to the home stretch of elections and the stress that comes with that. As November 3rd continues to draw closer, both campaigns are certain to be pouring all of their resources into winning the highest office in the Commonwealth.
THE CAMPAIGN WEBSITE OF MATT BEVIN AND JENEAN HAMPTON CAN BE FOUND AT:
THE CAMPAIGN WEBSITE OF JACK CONWAY AND SANNIE OVERLY CAN BE FOUND AT: