LOUISVILLE, KY – Republican Gov. Matt Bevin asked Wednesday for a recanvass of Kentucky election results that showed him more than 5,000 votes behind Democrat Andy Beshear, who discounted the challenge and began preparing to take office.
Beshear, the state's attorney general, said he's confident in the election outcome, saying any review would show he won the hard-fought campaign.
"Whatever process that the governor chooses to go down, it's not going to change this overall number of votes," Beshear said at a news conference. "We are going to take the steps to move forward to make sure that we are ready ... on the day that we're inaugurated."
With 100% of precincts reporting, Beshear led by a little over 5,000 votes out of more than 1.4 million counted, or a margin of less than 0.4 percentage points. That's inside the margin that would trigger a recount in most states, and it's AP policy not to call races that could go to a recount. Although there is no mandatory recount law in Kentucky, the AP is applying that same standard here.
At a news conference late Wednesday in Frankfort, Bevin said he wanted to ensure integrity in the process even as he hinted without offering evidence that there had been irregularities in the voting.
"We're in the process of getting affidavits and other information that will help us to get a better understanding of what did or did not happen," he said.
Bevin said any information turned up won't be "followed through on" until after the recanvass — an indication he could seek further review of the election results.
Kentucky's secretary of state, Alison Lundergan Grimes, scheduled the recanvass for Nov. 14. A recanvass is a check of the vote count to ensure the results were added correctly.
Beshear's campaign responded with a statement repeating that he hopes Bevin honors the election results. The campaign noted that a recanvass has never led to a reversal of an election result in Kentucky.
The governor claimed Wednesday that thousands of absentee ballots may have been illegally counted. He suggested people may have improperly turned away from the polls, and said such claims need corroboration.
Kentucky inaugurates its governors in the December following an election. Beshear — the son of Kentucky's last Democratic governor, Steve Beshear —named his top deputy in the attorney general's office, J. Michael Brown, to lead his transition team.
Beshear said his budget proposal in early 2020 will reflect his priorities on public education, health care and infrastructure.
He promised a quick follow-through on some key campaign pledges. Those include appointing new members to the Kentucky Board of Education, rescinding Bevin's proposed work-related requirements for some Medicaid recipients and restoring voting rights for more than 140,000 nonviolent felons who completed their sentences.
Bevin said it's appropriate for his rival to form a transition team to be prepared to assume office if the review ends favorably for him.
Kentucky has no mandatory recount law. If Bevin decides to take that step, he would need a court's approval for a recount.
Bevin won the 2015 GOP primary for governor by just 83 votes. A recanvass confirmed that margin. He noted wryly Tuesday night: "Would it be a Bevin race if it wasn't a squeaker?"
But the gap is much larger this time. Bevin hinted for the first time Tuesday night there might be "irregularities" to look into but didn't offer specifics. Asked about Bevin's remark, Beshear said Wednesday: "I don't know what information he's working off of."
While Bevin wasn't conceding, some prominent Kentucky Republicans acknowledged that Beshear won.
Republican strategist Scott Jennings referred to Beshear as Kentucky's next governor, wishing him "godspeed" and saying he "ran a good race" in a social media post.
Also on social media, GOP state Rep. Jason Nemes said: "Governor-elect Beshear is entitled to the democratic legitimacy that comes with loser's consent. So let's go through the process honorably and expeditiously and give it to him."
The final hours of campaigning were dominated by Bevin's endorsement from President Donald Trump at an election eve rally in Lexington. Trump had loomed large in the race as Bevin stressed his alliance with the Republican president.
But the combative Bevin struggled to overcome some self-inflicted wounds, including a running feud with teachers who opposed his efforts to revamp the state's woefully underfunded public pension systems.
Beshear maintained his focus on "kitchen table" issues like health care and education to blunt Bevin's efforts to hitch himself to Trump and nationalize the race.
Bevin lagged well behind the vote totals for other statewide Republican candidates, who swept Kentucky's races for attorney general, secretary of state, auditor, treasurer and agriculture commissioner.
Trump took credit Wednesday for the near sweep, tweeting, "Our big Kentucky Rally on Monday night had a massive impact on all of the races. He claimed without citing specific polls that Bevin "picked up at least 15 points in last days, but perhaps not enough (Fake News will blame Trump!)."
Turnout in Kentucky was up by nearly 50% over the state's 2015 governor's race, increasing from 974,000 voters to more than 1.4 million. The number of voters Tuesday equaled turnout in Kentucky's 2014 race for U.S. Senate, rare for an election in an odd-numbered year.
Turnout for both political parties increased over the 2015 race, but the gains were more dramatic for Beshear. Some of the biggest increases were in the counties where Beshear fared best, especially in Jefferson and Fayette counties, where Beshear won about two-thirds of the vote.