May 22, 2015 — Like most Kentucky Republicans, I did not vote for Matt Bevin last year or this year. But also like most Kentucky Republicans I will be backing Bevin now that he is the party’s apparent nominee for governor against Democrat Jack Conway.
Bevin has not solicited my advice, does not need it, and almost certainly will not heed it. Here it is anyway.
Swallow your pride, put away any lingering hard feelings from the 2014 U.S. Senate primary, and meet with Senator Mitch McConnell immediately. Quit trying to explain away your failure to endorse McConnell after he beat you.
Just make peace and move forward. McConnell is the ultimate political professional, and he has buried many a hatchet much bigger than the one he hit you with last year.
Ask not only for his advice, but for assistance in raising money. You are going to need it. McConnell has his hands full in Washington as Majority Leader, but few people in American political history have ever surpassed him in successful multi-tasking.
Even if you correctly think you can win without McConnell’s active help it will be a lot easier for you to govern if there is no hostility between you. Governors have to make a lot of deals so start your general election campaign by showing the voters you have that capacity when it comes to the titular leader of your own party.
Try to form a “team of rivals” with your primary foes as Abraham Lincoln did with the men he defeated for the 1860 Republican presidential nomination. James Comer, Hal Heiner, and Will T. Scott are good and talented men, so make it know that there will be a place for them in your administration if they want it.
Because Republicans have so seldom held Kentucky’s governorship there are not a lot of experienced hands with whom to staff a transition, much less an entire administration. That manpower shortage hurt the last GOP governor, Ernie Fletcher.
But you can benefit both politically now and eventually as governor by getting out the word that a Bevin governorship will be open to your vanquished adversaries and their backers. The same applies for Democrats, a sizeable portion of whom have already made their dissatisfaction with Conway known by voting against him in the primary.
Do not send any signals that you will completely clean house in the state government bureaucracy. Appeal to the many good state government workers by letting them know things will be better for those who bring value to their jobs.
Be careful of the national company you keep. Support from some conservative and reactionary radio talk show hosts may have helped you eke out your 83-vote primary win, but some of those big mouths can be dangerously intemperate.
So exercise extreme caution with this crowd. They know next to nothing about Kentucky and will try to get you to commit to and say some outrageous and off-message things.
Issues are wonderful, but campaigns are often as much or more about personalities. Conway can come across as a colorless and condescending phony, so steer clear of any anger or bitterness (especially when baited, as you will be, by operatives of Kentucky’s liberal media outlets) and stay authentic, positive, and upbeat.
Do not overplay either the Obama or gay marriage angles, although both can be helpful. There could be a temptation to bank too much campaign capital on these two topics.
Obama will soon be gone, his name is not as toxic in a state race as a federal one, and a lot of Kentuckians have gained some form of health insurance coverage (mainly Medicaid) under Obamacare. Conway will wrap himself in the sleazy Clinton mantle regardless, but you can counter that by aligning yourself to liberty-loving Kentucky Senator Rand Paul.
The Supreme Court will almost certainly have ruled on Kentucky’s traditional marriage regime by the time the general election campaign is underway in good and earnest. Regardless of that outcome, your best and broadest pitch against Conway is that his refusal to defend Kentucky law demonstrates a potentially dangerous preference for rule by judiciary on issues constitutionally committed to the states.
Your every utterance should remind voters that Conway personifies the stagnant Democratic status quo of over a century that has entrenched Kentucky at the wrong end of so many state rankings. It is time to try a different approach if we ever aspire to different results.
Outgoing Governor Steve Beshear did a decent job as a caretaker and appears to have run a clean administration. Recognize and respect those things, but advocate for a more dynamic and innovative approach.
You ran a good, smart primary campaign. Here’s hoping you quickly and effectively adapt to the different general election landscape and demonstrate that Republicans were wise to put their faith in you.
John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney and a political commentator for WDRB.com. His e-mail is [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @jddyche.