Voters will deliver the final verdict in a month, but Kentucky Democrats, a dysfunctional bunch not known for their consensus building, seem to be galvanizing around a common belief: that longtime legislator Rocky Adkins is the party’s best bet to unseat Gov. Matt Bevin in November.
For many on the left, that will require putting electoral success ahead of personal preference. They like Attorney General Andy Beshear for his relentless opposition to Bevin and Republican legislators (“Bevin, Beshear square off in court” might be the most frequently published headline in Kentucky political history.) Former state Auditor Adam Edelen is a likable fellow with solid progressive credentials, including embracing gay rights before most red-state Democratic hopefuls had the courage to do so.
But there’s a belief — supported by the disastrous “Triangle strategy” of Jack Conway in the last gubernatorial race — that the November election will be won or lost in rural Kentucky. While Beshear or Edelen could run up impressive margins in Lexington, Louisville and the Cincinnati suburbs (Conway’s “Triangle”), Adkins is the candidate most likely to convince rural Kentuckians to do something they’ve become terribly uncomfortable doing: voting “D” at a time when the national Democratic Party is moving to the far left.
State Rep. Joe Graviss, D-Versailles, likely speaks for many in his party when he says “I’m friends with all three candidates — personal friends, admire aspects of each of them — but in my heart and mind, I feel like Rocky Adkins is the candidate who can do the most good for Kentucky.”
Graviss told Frankfort Rotarians this week that “Rocky has a great chance to win in November because of his ability to relate to the rural parts of Kentucky.”
“He grew up there — his story, his background, his life experiences,” Graviss said. “He talks about being one of us when he’s on the stump, when he’s on TV, and he really is. He’s just a regular guy who’s had incredible, unique experiences in his life because of his ability to be able to work together with people. He has that relatability, that down-to-earthness.”
To shore up possible vulnerabilities in urban and suburban areas, Adkins made a smart choice of running mate: Stephanie Horne.
The suburban Louisville businesswoman and school board member stopped by my office recently with mutual friend Kathy Warren to get acquainted. Horne was affable, smart and quick on her feet as I grilled her on the hot-button issues of the day. She checks all of the boxes for liberal Democrats trying to decide whether to hold their noses and vote for the centrist Adkins. She’s unabashedly pro-public schools and pro-teacher (a constituency that many believe is a lock for Beshear). She’s also pro-choice, running on a ticket with the prolife Adkins.
Like Adkins, she seems comfortable in her own skin. If the 2019 gubernatorial outcome is indeed determined in rural Kentucky, where folks are suspicious of starched politicians, especially Democratic ones, that might prove to be the most important quality of all.
Said Graviss: “I don’t think Rocky is trying to find the strategy that’s going to work and then become that (candidate). He’s living that strategy. His life is that strategy. He is rural. And his approach is to represent the little guy, which is what we so desperately need.”