Politics

Kentucky Democrats expressed optimism about their political future at the annual Marshall County Bean Dinner Friday, despite hitting a historic low point in elected Democrats and voters in the state.

At a dinner ahead of the annual Fancy Farm picnic, Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear dismissed criticism from potential opponents that he launched his campaign too early — and took attention away from statehouse elections on the ballot this November.

“The fact is that we have a message that Kentuckians want to hear — and that’s of prioritizing public education, creating good-paying jobs, fighting this drug epidemic and returning decency to the governor’s office,” Beshear said.

Beshear is the only candidate from either party who has formally entered next year’s gubernatorial contest, though there are several politicians angling to launch campaigns. His campaign comes as the number of registered Democrats in Kentucky dipped below 50 percent for the first time in modern history earlier this year.

The party lost control of the state House of Representatives for the first time in nearly a century during the 2016 elections, giving Republicans control of both legislative chambers and the governor’s mansion for the first time in state history.

But all 100 seats in the House and half of the seats in the Senate are up for re-election this year, and Democrats are hopeful they’ll be able to get the 15 seats necessary to win back control.

“It’s women that are the gale force wind behind this blue wave,” said Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who is mulling a run for governor.

There are 36 non-incumbent women running for seats in the state House of Representatives this year.

Former State Auditor Adam Edelen is also considering a bid for governor, saying that Democrats need to run against Gov. Bevin’s attempts to change the Medicaid system.

Ryland Barton | wfpl.org

Former Auditor Adam Edelen won’t say if he’s running for governor next year, but says Democrats need to run against Gov. Bevin’s attempts to reshape Medicaid.

“The type of candidate that I would potentially be in ‘19 is somebody who not only has a really deep grasp of health care policy, but can make the case to the people of Kentucky why it’s important,” Edelen said.

Rep. Rocky Adkins, a Democrat from Sandy Hook, said he was getting “tremendous encouragement” to run for governor, but that he was focused on rallying statehouse candidates.

“That energized population of people that have been on the sideline are on our side,” Adkins said. “I think they’ve been staying home, but this time they understand that it does matter who sits in those seats in Frankfort, Kentucky.”

As questions swirl over whether Republican Gov. Matt Bevin will seek re-election, Bevin on Friday revealed that he wouldn’t attend the annual Fancy Farm picnic. Grimes criticized Bevin’s decision to skip the political tradition.

“This is a big part of our economy here in Kentucky,” Grimes said of the western Kentucky region. “They deserve to have their leaders, especially statewide leaders, show up, be present and most importantly engage in a conversation with them.”

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.