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0000017a-3b40-d913-abfe-bf44a4f90000Howard Wilkinson joined the WVXU news team as the politics reporter and columnist in April 2012 , after 30 years of covering local, state and national politics for The Cincinnati Enquirer. On this page, you will find his weekly column, Politically Speaking; the Monday morning political chats with News Director Maryanne Zeleznik and other news coverage by Wilkinson. A native of Dayton, Ohio, Wilkinson has covered every Ohio gubernatorial race since 1974, as well as 16 presidential nominating conventions. Along with politics, Wilkinson also covered the 2001 Cincinnati race riots, the Lucasville prison riot in 1993, the Air Canada plane crash at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in 1983, and the 1997 Ohio River flooding. And, given his passion for baseball, you might even find some stories about the Cincinnati Reds here from time to time.

So You Think The Kentucky GOP Governor's Primary Was Close? Wait Until You See The Fall Campaign


No objections to close elections here. 

As a politics reporter, they’re much more fun to cover than blow-outs.

And did we ever have a close one Tuesday night in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, on the Republican side of the Kentucky gubernatorial primary.

Matt Bevin, the Louisville businessman who tilted against windmills in last year’s primary in an unsuccessful attempt to up-end the now-Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, edged out Kentucky Agriculture commissioner James Comer.

And when we say “edged out,” we mean the slimmest of edges. Bevin was the election night winner by a scant 83 votes out of a shade over 214,000 cast. Think about that – 83 votes, spread across 3,700 precincts in Kentucky’s 120 counties.

A photo finish worthy of the Kentucky Derby.

And, of course, Comer – who was the favorite in the four candidate field when the race began – is asking for an official re-canvass, which will take place Thursday. In a re-canvass, county election officials compare their print-out of vote totals with what they submitted to Kentucky’s Secretary of State on election night.

If Comer picks up some votes, he could ask for a formal recount, where individual votes are actually counted.

But, in our experience, recounts and re-canvasses almost never change the result of the election; and it is not unreasonable to expect that Bevin, who last year was the ultimate outside in Kentucky GOP politics, will be the duly nominated candidate of the Kentucky Republican Party for governor of the Commonwealth.

A fact that is going to require some GOP leaders around the state to force smiles and act like they are happy with this for the next six months.

Here’s the irony of this 83-vote “landslide” for Bevin last Tuesday night: If he remains the GOP nominee (which is highly likely), he could face an election that is just as close in the fall, when he runs against the Democrat, Attorney General Jack Conway.

Conway cruised to a cakewalk of a win over Geoffrey Young, a former congressional candidate. Conway took 79 percent of the vote; and Young, for some reason, has said he won’t concede the election. Well, good luck with that, Mr. Young.

Conway lost a U.S. Senate race to Rand Paul, a first-time candidate, in Kentucky’s U.S. Senate race five years ago.

But federal elections and gubernatorial elections are two different animals in the Commonwealth.

Federal elections tend to go Republican; Democrats have a pretty good track record in governor’s races. The incumbent Democratic governor, Steve Beshear, has proved to be pretty darned popular in his two terms in Frankfort.

Here’s an indication of how close the political analysts believe this Kentucky governor’s race in November might be:

Larry J. Sabato is director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. He publishes a weekly newsletter called “Sabato’s Crystal Ball,” which tracks elections for the presidency, governors, and Congress. It is widely read in the political world and highly regarded.

On Thursday, the Crystal Ball’s managing editor, Kyle Kondik, wrote a column saying that intra-party divisions may cause problems for the GOP this fall in gubernatorial elections – including Kentucky.

In fact, after the primary, the Crystal Ball moved the Kentucky governor’s race from the category of “Leans Republican” to “Toss-up.”

Kondik told WVXU that he thinks the Kentucky GOP is going to have a hard time getting unified around Bevin after a brutal primary election season.

“It was a really rough primary,’’ Kondik told WVXU. “That doesn’t mean that Bevin can’t win in the fall. But I think, any way you look at it, this is no sure thing for the Republicans. This race is a toss-up.”

Comer and Hal Heiner, the Louisville businessman who came in third, were saying all the right things Tuesday night about supporting the nominee of the party if Bevin prevails in the re-canvass.

But, as Kondik pointed out in the Crystal Ball, a Bevin win “cannot please the state’s GOP leader, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell – Bevin challenged McConnell in a primary last year, which the long-time incumbent won handily.

But Bevin, after the primary, refused to endorse McConnell in his race against the Democratic nominee, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.

That would leave one to believe that McConnell might not do a whole lot of heavy-lifting for gubernatorial candidate Bevin in the fall campaign.

“The general election, we think, is anyone’s game,’’ Kondik wrote. “In fact, Conway probably starts out ahead; and Bevin will have to work hard to mend the fences he should have mended last year.”

It all points to a close and contentious race for Kentucky governor this fall.

It will be, as the Reds’ Hall of Fame broadcaster Marty Brennaman says when calling a Reds game that is a low-scoring pitching duel, “a good old good one.”

Howard Wilkinson is in his 50th year of covering politics on the local, state and national levels.