Politics

With less than a day before voters head to the polls, candidates for Kentucky governor were crisscrossing the state trying to drum up support in what political observers are calling an uninspiring contest.

Democrat Jack Conway and Republican Matt Bevin each claim to have the advantage going into Election Day. Conway cites the most recent Bluegrass Poll released last week, which shows him ahead by 5 percentage points.

Bevin points to a poll conducted by Vox Populi showing the race in a dead heat, but with Bevin leading among voters who say they are definitely going to cast a ballot.

In the waning hours of the 2015 campaign, Bevin joined other Republican statewide candidates for a rally with Sen. Mitch McConnell in Louisville early Monday morning. The Republican candidates then flew to stops in Lexington, Northern Kentucky, Ashland, Bowling Green, Paducah and Owensboro.

Conway also conducted a fly-around tour, stopping in Covington, Lexington, Catlettsburg, Hazard, Paducah, Owensboro and winding up in his hometown of Louisville.

While voters have likely made up their minds about the race, last-minute campaigning can play a key role in increasing the voter turnout, said Stephen Voss, a political science professor at the University of Kentucky.

Turnout is expected to be as high as the 40-percent range in some counties, but lower elsewhere, county clerks say.

“What we’ve seen is that when a campaign is successful at a get-out-the-vote effort, they can bump their vote up by a few percentage points,” Voss said.

At the same time, Voss said the campaigns haven’t generated the same type of excitement as races in the past. Also, many voters might just show up to “vote against the other guy.”

“Sadly, a lot of voters this time appear to be motivated more by negative feelings toward the candidates they’re opposing than by positive feelings toward the candidate they’ll be supporting,” Voss said. “We talk about picking the lesser evils or picking the devil you know rather than the devil you don’t know, but those clichés really seem to apply — especially to the ways voters are thinking about this contest.”

According to the Bluegrass Poll, independent candidate Drew Curtis has about 6 percent of likely voters.

Dewey Clayton, a political science professor for the University of Louisville, said Curtis could prove to be a spoiler in the close race, especially if a swath of voters from either major party chose to not come to the polls.

“Who knows what could happen?” Clayton said.

He also said many rural voters might be uninspired by the major party candidates because they both hail from Louisville. Kentucky has not had a governor from Louisville since 1955.

“I think that what we’re dealing with are candidates who capture more of an urban flavor in terms of politics and style,” he said.

Joel Turner agreed.

“There’s less of an attachment,” said Turner, a political science professor at Western Kentucky University. “I know particularly if Commissioner Comer would have wound up being the nominee, down here around WKU in this area, there would have been a lot more interest and motivation.”

Turner said exhaustion from a bare-knuckle Republican primary and the national focus on the presidential race have played into the lack of interest in the statewide candidates.

“Donald Trump running has taken a lot of air in the room,” Turner said.

Polls open at 6 a.m. Tuesday and close at 6 p.m.

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