Republican businessman Matt Bevin survived a relentless barrage of negative ads and limp poll numbers to pull out a surprise comeback victory in the race for Kentucky governor. How did he do it?
From “Food Fight” to “Fresh Start”
Bevin just barely won the Republican nomination by 83 votes, after depicting his two main rivals as squabbling children in the political ad “Food Fight,” and positioning himself above the fray.
Though Bevin was no stranger to negative ads in the general election. He began the general election campaign with the ad “Fresh Start” which said, “Jack Conway will say anything to get elected.” And one of his final ads mocked his Democratic opponent Jack Conway as a “liberal” futilely begging Siri on his iPhone to tell him how he could dupe conservative Kentucky voters into electing him anyway.
Going Positive, But Not Forgetting The Negative
What he dished out, he also had to take. Conway’s political consultants mercilessly tagged Bevin as a “liar” and a tax evader, and had the benefit of handy quotes from other Republicans criticizing Bevin from his failed 2014 primary challenge to Sen. Mitch McConnell.
But Bevin closed the campaign on a positive note. Well, mostly positive.
In his closing ad “Vote,” Bevin speaks to the camera to try to inoculate himself from Conway’s attacks: “Jack Conway is spending millions lying about me. That’s all he’s got. It’s because Conway is a career politician who supports Obama’s agenda.”
Circling back to his long-standing themes stressing his outsider background and deep Christian faith: Bevin becomes upbeat: “We need new ideas and a fresh start for Kentucky. I’m a businessman, an outsider with a positive vision … I’m a Christian, a husband, a father of nine and a US Army veteran.” As Bevin has done repeatedly in his campaigns, he is pictured with his family, including four children adopted from Ethiopia.
Despite polls showing him down by five right before Election Day, Bevin won by nearly nine. Some pundits credit the rise of Donald Trump for buoying Bevin’s outsider, businessman image. But it’s an image Bevin has been burnishing for some time, helping him withstand Conway’s assault.