FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — The reelection campaign of Republican Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin recently raised the ante in the November election, placing nearly $4 million worth of advertising on television and radio leading up to his showdown with Democratic challenger and Attorney General Andy Beshear.
Now, the governor's campaign is looking to reap a financial windfall when President Donald Trump headlines a private fundraiser for Bevin on Wednesday in Louisville.
Bevin has made no bones about his embrace of Trump heading into the fall campaign. He literally wrapped himself in the president's image when he donned a jacket decorated with images of Trump's face while walking around the state fair last weekend.
The presidential boost promises to add more heft to Bevin's spending on voter outreach in a state where the governor barely topped 50% of the GOP vote in the May primary — despite Trump's last-minute pitch for Bevin through Twitter and a recorded phone message to voters.
A defeat for Bevin, an unabashed Trump supporter, would send shock waves through Republican circles nationally heading into the 2020 presidential election.
Beshear's campaign beat Bevin to the punch with TV advertising for the general election and vows to go toe-to-toe with the incumbent into November. Bevin also can tap into his personal wealth, as he did in winning the governorship in 2015. Outside advocacy groups for both sides have joined the fray, with many more ads expected.
The messaging comes in a race where the governor has struggled with slumping approval ratings but where the challenger is trying to overcome Kentucky's shift toward the GOP in recent years. Bevin's popularity took hits after he lashed out at teachers who rallied against his efforts to revamp the state's chronically underfunded public pension systems.
Trump's trip to Kentucky gives Bevin a chance to bask in the president's support, solidify his base and add to his fundraising in the bitter battle with Beshear, the son of Bevin's predecessor in the governor's office.
The governor's staff believes the president can only help.
"There is a lot of enthusiasm for the Bevin record of partnering with President Trump," said Bevin campaign manager Davis Paine.
Trump — who won big in Kentucky in 2016 and remains popular statewide — will also speak at the AMVETS national convention during his Louisville visit.
Bevin has turned what he describes as his friendship with Trump into a campaign staple, saying Kentucky benefits from his comradery with the president and his administration.
"It does not hurt when we have a close relationship with the president, the vice president, with multiple cabinet secretaries," Bevin said Tuesday during an interview with WKCT radio.
The governor's campaign recently invested $3.7 million in TV and radio advertising. Ads are scheduled to start running statewide right after Labor Day and will continue without a break until the November election, Paine said.
"It's telling us what we presumed, that Bevin — who is personally wealthy — will be well funded," said longtime Kentucky political commentator Al Cross.
The question is whether Beshear can keep pace, he said.
In his recent debut ad for the fall campaign, Beshear played up the pastors in his family tree, stressed his faith and vowed to treat people with "dignity and respect." The ad was just the first in what will be a steady series of TV messages until Election Day, Beshear campaign manager Eric Hyers said.
Beshear's campaign also emphasizes its grassroots efforts. Beshear activists have already knocked on 150,000 doors to pitch his campaign, Hyers said. They're also bracing for more rounds of attack ads from Bevin's side.
"He is so unpopular and so disliked personally, his only chance is to try to bring Andy Beshear down to his level," Hyers said of Bevin.
Kentucky has already gotten considerable attention from groups trying to elect Republican and Democratic governors nationwide. It is one of three states electing governors in 2019, along with Louisiana and Mississippi.
The Republican Governors Association started weighing in right after the primary election with ads attacking Beshear and promoting Bevin. The Democratic Governors Association started running ads aimed at boosting Beshear in the summer.