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Former Trump press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders campaigns for Kentucky governor Matt Bevin

Posted at 11:47 PM, Oct 14, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-14 23:47:34-04

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Sarah Huckabee Sanders praised Republican Gov. Matt Bevin for his willingness to absorb "a lot of heat for taking strong positions" as President Donald Trump's former press secretary headlined a campaign event Monday aimed at firing up conservative voters in Kentucky.

Sanders and U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina appeared with Bevin and his running mate, state Sen. Ralph Alvarado, at a campaign event in Louisville. They're the latest in a series of prominent conservatives in Trump's administration or with close ties to the White House to campaign with Bevin.

Bevin is locked in a close race with Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear with about three weeks before the Nov. 5 election. While Bevin campaigned alongside supporters with Washington ties, Beshear's campaign released a TV ad featuring a Kentuckian — longtime state Rep. Rocky Adkins.

Beshear is making a strong push for support in eastern Kentucky, a region that increasingly sided with the GOP in recent elections and where Trump remains highly popular. Adkins overwhelmingly carried his native eastern Kentucky in losing to Beshear in the spring gubernatorial primary.

In her pitch for Bevin, Sanders urged voters to support the governor.

"You've got an incredible governor here that has taken a lot of heat for taking strong positions," she said. "Don't make him take it alone."

It was reminiscent of Trump's praise for Bevin during a summer appearance in Louisville. Trump referred to Bevin as "a man who has really done a great job. I don't know if he's appreciated."

Bevin's popularity has suffered for his efforts to revamp Kentucky's woefully underfunded public pension systems and for his feuds with education groups that opposed his pension plan.

On Monday, Bevin stressed his opposition to abortion and his support for gun-ownership rights.

"Vote your values, not your party," the governor said in a message meant to appeal to conservative Democrats.

Bevin barely topped 50% of the GOP vote in the spring primary against three other candidates.

Meadows, a prominent conservative in Congress, played up Bevin's ties to Trump, saying the president has "no better friend" than the Kentucky governor. Bevin routinely touts his connection to Trump in trying to fend off a tough challenge from Beshear. The governor is hoping for a late campaign visit by Trump.

Republican attorney general candidate Daniel Cameron also attended Monday's event.

The Kentucky governor's race is being watched closely for any signs of vulnerability among Republican incumbents aligned with Trump heading into the 2020 elections.

"If the people of Kentucky do not reelect this fine governor, every single liberal media person is going to say, 'Oh, this is a watershed moment for the country. One of the president's favorite governors did not get reelected,'" Meadows said.

Meanwhile, Adkins promotes Beshear in a new ad that shows the two Democrats in a restaurant.

"I've fought for eastern Kentucky my whole life, for our jobs and our people," Adkins says in the commercial. "For hope and opportunity, Kentucky needs Andy Beshear as governor. He'll fight for us and treat us with respect. Our current governor, he doesn't do that."

It's a stark contrast to Bevin's strained relationship with his closest rival in the spring primary.

During the summer, Bevin insulted Republican state Rep. Robert Goforth, telling a TV reporter that "it's a name so easily forgotten." Bevin's comment came after being told that Goforth had expressed his support for the GOP but did not specifically commit to voting for him. Goforth received nearly 40% of the Republican vote in the primary, carrying large sections of eastern and southeastern Kentucky