Combative to the end, Republican Gov. Matt Bevin and Democratic challenger Andy Beshear spotlighted their campaign themes Tuesday night in their final debate before their election showdown in Kentucky.
Vowing to change the tone in the governor's office, Beshear said he won't attack people who disagree with him. He hammered away at Bevin's criticism of teachers who opposed his policies. Bevin touted the state's economic growth and his willingness to take on tough issues like the state's underfunded pension systems.
The candidates, sitting next to each other, took repeated digs at one another during tense exchanges, coming a week before Kentuckians settle their bitter rivalry. Their latest faceoff, at Northern Kentucky University in Highland Heights, capped a series of debates that exposed not only gaping differences on key issues like education, health care and expanded gambling, but also their mutual animosity.
Beshear promised to "never stoop" to the behavior that he said Bevin has displayed as governor. Beshear declared: "Folks, we deserve so much better in Kentucky."
During his tenure, Bevin sharply criticized teachers who used sick days to rally at Kentucky's Capitol against pension and education proposals he supported. Some days, so many teachers rallied that some schools closed.
On Tuesday night, the governor stressed his business experience, saying it makes him better qualified to represent Kentucky in negotiations with business prospects. He emphasized the state's job growth and low unemployment during his term.
"Are you better than you were four years ago?" the governor asked. "And if the answer is 'yes,' I would ask for your vote Nov. 5th."
Bevin also pointed to his willingness to take on thorny issues like pensions, saying: "I'm not going to kick cans down the road."
During their hourlong debate, the candidates played up other themes that have played out during their grudge match. Bevin touted his opposition to abortion and his support for President Donald Trump.
Beshear, the state's attorney general, said he stood up to what he saw as the governor's abuse of his executive powers in a series of lawsuits against Bevin.
The Democratic challenger continued to promote his plan to legalize casino gambling to raise needed revenue to shore up public pensions systems. Beshear says the venture would generate more than $500 million in yearly revenue — reflecting the amount that he said now flows to other states where Kentuckians go to gamble.
Bevin has denounced Beshear's expanded gambling plan as a "pipe dream," saying it would never win approval from the GOP-dominated legislature.
Bevin insisted that fundamental changes are needed in public pension plans to keep them solvent.
"Here's the reality, if we keep promising the same thing to future employees, there is 0% chance that the future employees, the current or even those already retired who plan to live more than 10 or 12 years are going to get what was promised to them," Bevin said. "There is not enough money. There are more retired workers now in Kentucky than there are active workers."
The statewide election is next Tuesday.