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GOP Gubernatorial Primary Comes Down To Historic Nailbiter

GOP gubernotorial candidates Matt Bevin and james Comer on primary election night
GOP gubernotorial candidates Matt Bevin and james Comer on primary election night

It was all eyes on the Republican gubernatorial race Tuesday night, as Kentucky voters finally had their say in the contentious and increasingly combative contest for the nomination. 

With twists and turns, rumors and allegations, by the final weeks the story of the GOP  primary had all the makings of a political soap opera. And Tuesday night ended with a cliffhanger.

When the tallying finally wound down for the evening, Louisville investment manager Matt Bevin enjoyed a razor thin 83 vote advantage over Agriculture Commissioner James Comer. And while the Associated Press elected not to call the race, Bevin sounded like a General Election candidate in his speech.

"I am calling out to everyone in this state. I don't care what party you are. I don't care what campaign you have been a part of or are a part of, on our side or the other side," he said. "I am calling out to you to join us in this effort because we are indeed Kentucky and we have much work to accomplish. With your help we're going to make it happen."

Meanwhile, Comer stopped short of offering a concession speech.

"We have so many people that have worked so hard. We overcame so much money. We overcame some bad press with some newspapers in this state. We overcame a lot and I owe it to our supporters to ask for a re-canvass in this election," he said to cheers from the audience.

Despite outspending his fellow candidates, former Louisville Metro Councilman Hal Heiner came in about 6 percentage points behind the two frontrunners. Fourth place finisher Will T. Scott earned 7 percent of the vote.

The close totals for Bevin and Comer will not trigger an automatic recount.

A Bevin Nomination

Should Tuesday night’s winner of the Republican gubernatorial primary, Matt Bevin, survive a re-canvass requested by James Comer, Kentucky will face a clear choice at the polls come November.

Bevin used his election night speech to hit on a number of themes likely to be music to the ears of conservatives in the state – from replacing the new Common Core academic standards to dismantling Kynect, the state’s health insurance exchange set up under the Affordable Care Act.

On KET Tuesday night, former Kentucky Democratic Party chair Jennifer Moore suggested Bevin could have difficulty appealing to centrist voters.

"There is a stark contrast between his extreme views on the very, very far right. This is not the middle ground of the Republican Party," she said.

One other challenge for the tea party favorite: winning over skeptical establishment GOP leaders – including Sen. Mitch McConnell, whom Bevin never endorsed by name after his failed 2014 primary bid to unseat the senator.

Still, former state Republican Party chair Ellen Williams told the panel her party stands ready to unite around their candidate.

"The Republicans are going to come together," she said. "They're going to coalesce around the issues that we care about... the creation of jobs, tax reform, education for our children."

Both Comer and fellow primary candidate Hal Heiner have pledged to throw their full support behind Bevin if he ultimately faces Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jack Conway in the fall.

Copyright 2015 WUKY

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now known as Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and Program Director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.