LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — President Donald Trump will headline a fundraiser for Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, who is banking on his close ties with the Republican president as he faces a tough challenge from a Democratic rival in a state that Trump dominated in 2016.
Trump will travel to Kentucky to attend the Aug. 21 fundraiser in Louisville, Bevin’s campaign announced Monday.
“Gov. Bevin is thankful for President Trump’s friendship and strong support,” Bevin campaign manager Davis Paine said.
Bevin consistently points to his political alliance with Trump along with the state’s job growth and low unemployment in his pitch for a second term. The governor received a congratulatory call from Trump earlier this year after a steel producer announced it will build a manufacturing mill in rural Kentucky.
Paine said Monday that the governor “looks forward to furthering that partnership as they continue to work together to move Kentucky forward.”
Trump is also scheduled to speak to the national convention of veterans group AMVETS, the organization said in a news release. The event is the same day in Louisville.
Kentucky Democrats are trying to win back the governorship while the GOP is trying to sustain its dominance in the bluegrass state. Kentucky is one of three states electing governors in 2019, along with Louisiana and Mississippi. A Bevin defeat this year would send shock waves through Republican circles nationally heading into 2020.
Democratic challenger Andy Beshear on Monday slammed Bevin on health insurance protections for Kentuckians. Beshear’s campaign didn’t comment on Trump’s upcoming visit to Kentucky.
Beshear and Bevin are on opposite sides of a Trump administration effort to expand Association Health Plans, which allow similar small businesses to band together and provide health insurance plans exempt from some protections of the Affordable Care Act. Bevin backs Trump’s administration on the issue while Beshear, as the state’s attorney general, joined a legal effort to block the expansion of Association Health Plans.
Beshear took to twitter Monday to accuse Bevin of siding with insurance companies wanting to “go back to denying essential coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.”
Trump’s administration is seeking to have federal courts declare the Obama-era health care law unconstitutional.
Trump, who won Kentucky by a landslide in 2016, overshadows the Kentucky governor’s race.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also has aligned himself closely with Trump as he prepares for his reelection campaign next year in Kentucky. Last week, Vice President Mike Pence made an appearance with Bevin in southeastern Kentucky to tout efforts to reduce the state’s opioid addiction problems.
GOP strategist Scott Jennings said Monday that Trump’s support in Kentucky remains solid.
The president’s visit gives Bevin another chance, he said, to nationalize the governor’s race — a strategy Republicans have used effectively for years to tie Kentucky Democrats to more progressive party leaders nationally.
In the spring, Trump tweeted his support for Bevin and recorded a phone message to Republican voters statewide on the eve of the state’s May primary election. Despite Trump’s advocacy, Bevin won barely more than half the GOP vote.
Trump and Bevin share a political kinship as businessmen who transformed themselves into similarly unconventional conservative politicians. Both favor social media over traditional media and attack critics fiercely.
“Bevin has a lot of ground to make up, even within his Republican Party,” Democratic strategist Mark Riddle said Monday. “He’s going to try to use the president to help narrow that gap.” Riddle questioned whether testimonials from Trump will repair the damage caused by Bevin’s sometimes-caustic style.
Bevin’s approval ratings have slumped since his failed attempt to change the state’s struggling public pension systems. The pension law signed by Bevin was struck down by Kentucky’s Supreme Court on procedural grounds. Beshear filed the lawsuit that led to the ruling.
The combative governor also is trying to overcome his self-inflicted political wounds from feuding with public education groups who said the pension changes would discourage people from entering the profession. Thousands of teachers and other public workers swarmed the state Capitol in Frankfort last year to oppose the pension plan, closing schools in more than 30 districts statewide.