Concluding the first day of the Kentucky Chamber’s Business Summit, business leaders heard a panel on Kentucky politics on Thursday between two high profile names on both sides of the political spectrum.
Moderator Jacqueline Pitts, managing editor of The Bottom Line, started the conversation with political pundits CNN Correspondent Republican Scott Jennings and host of Kentucky Sports Radio and Hey Kentucky Democrat Matt Jones asking their thoughts on the 2019 Governor’s race, specifically asking if Governor Matt Bevin will run for re-election.
Jennings said that he will run and believes he will be re-elected, stating it would be hard for Republican incumbent in a conservative state, with a low unemployment rate, to lose. He also stated that there is not a Democrat currently considering running that would be able to beat Gov. Bevin.
Jones stated that he agrees Gov. Bevin will run but stated he might be vulnerable due to his rhetoric dealing with the pension issue, which Jones said has made him unpopular, especially in the rural parts of the state.
Jennings stated that if Bevin decides not to run, there would be many people that would enter the race. Jones said that he believes Democrats would like Bevin to run, and if he doesn’t it will be a free for all for all Republicans, and highlighted Congressman James Comer, several legislators and perhaps even political consultants as possible candidates.
Looking at Attorney General Andy Beshear, who has already declared his candidacy for Governor, Pitts asked the panel about their thoughts on his chance.
Jones said that at this point he is the favorite, but he is the only candidate. He stated he believes Rep. Rocky Adkins, former state Auditor Adam Edelen, Rep. Attica Scott and perhaps Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes may run. Jones noted a crowded primary will be good for the Democrats because it could build a new generation of Democrats to emerge.
Jennings said that he doesn’t believe Beshear doesn’t sound like a Governor and Adam Edelen is a better speaker and campaigner. He also stated that former Congressman Ben Chandler may consider running as a moderate. Jennings also said that he thinks Secretary of State Grimes could be a strong contender, as the only female to enter the race.
On the topic of the state legislative races coming up in November, both panelists believe that the House will remain in Republican control but could lose a few seats. Jones said that the teacher movement is real and he believes there will be some surprises where teachers, or teacher-supported candidates, will win, using the defeat of Majority Leader Jonathan Shell as an example.
Pitts shifted the conversation to the most contentious Congressional race between Congressman Andy Barr versus Amy McGrath.
Jennings stated that Kentucky’s Congressional 6th District is the state’s only purple district, going back in forth between R and D over the years. He added Barr is doing everything he needs to do to withstand a bad environment and resources for him will not be an issue and stated that Barr has not cast a single vote that goes in conflict with his district. Jennings stated that McGrath has run many positive ads and has an interesting story, but as the days get closer to November, he believes her inexperience will show. He concluded by saying that the district is still at least 50% pro-President Trump and that will help him.
Jones stated that McGrath ran an impressive campaign, beating a popular mayor in a primary and he believes that she will win in November.
Pitts asked the question about the relationship between President Trump and Majority Leader McConnell, Jennings said that one of the most positive things they have accomplished are the appointment of judges who are conservative, and this will define the legacy of this first Presidential term. Jones said that McConnell and mainstream Republicans have historically agreed on many issues, but now with President Trump this has shifted, but stated that McConnell does not agree with this movement. He said the Trump/McConnell relationship is the most fascinating thing in national politics.
Jennings noted the press conference President Trump held with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, saying that it was a bad performance, but the Democrats have vastly overplayed it, just as they did with the immigration crisis.
When asked if McConnell would be able to hold the Senate, Jennings stated the Senate will remain in Republican control, but thinks the House could potentially flip to Democrat. Jennings followed up that McConnell would run for re-election and he feels strongly the Senate Majority Leader will win.
Jones, who has been rumored to run against Sen. McConnell in 2020, stated that anyone who would run against the Majority Leader would face an uphill battle and it would need to be a political outsider. He also stated that he agrees the House may flip to Democrat, but the Senate will stay in Republican control.
Jennings said the main focus of McConnell’s election will involve Kentuckians having the opportunity to have the most powerful champion in Congress and that matters to the electorate.
Jones stated that he is a progressive Democrat and his audience is overwhelmingly Trump supporters, who are not favorable to Sen. McConnell and there is a way, even though difficult, for someone to beat the Majority Leader.
When asked about emerging leaders, Jennings stated House Majority Leader Jonathan Shell, Sen. Max Wise, Sen. Whitney Westerfield and State Treasure Allison Ball. On the Democrat side, Jennings stated he thinks Sen. Morgan McGarvey.
Jones stated Republicans Sen. Max Wise and Commissioner Ryan Quarles and Democrats Sen. Morgan McGarvey, Rep. James Kay, Rep. Chris Harris all have bright futures.
Wrapping up the panel, Jennings and Jones expressed what their main goals would be if they were in charge of their respective parties and discussing when they expect to see sports betting and recreational marijuana legalized.