LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Republican Gov. Matt Bevin basked in the campaign finale he craved Monday evening, receiving a ringing endorsement from President Donald Trump hours before voters settle Kentucky's closely watched governor's race between Bevin and Democrat Andy Beshear.
The boisterous rally at Rupp Arena reinforced one of Bevin's main campaign themes — his alliance with Trump, whose popularity surpasses the governor's in the bluegrass state.
Trump, who easily carried Kentucky in winning the presidency in 2016, declared that Bevin's reelection Tuesday would send a signal to the country and his political adversaries.
"Tomorrow, Kentucky has a chance to send the radical Democrats a message, you will vote to reject the Democrats' extremism, socialism and corruption and you will vote to reelect Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, who's done a great job," the president said.
Beshear, the state's attorney general, spent the day campaigning in western Kentucky. The presidential rally didn't throw Beshear off his strategy of making the race about state issues. The challenger stuck to his themes of improving public schools, creating better-paying jobs and protecting health care and public pensions.
"People try to distract us with national issues and get us thinking about things other than our well-being," Beshear said in a Monday radio interview on WKDZ. "Our families should be doing so much better. And I'm going to make sure they do."
Beshear wrapped up a long day of campaigning with a final stop in Louisville, where he needs a strong turnout Tuesday. He played up his support for public education, telling the crowd: "Are you ready to fight for teachers? Are you ready to beat Matt Bevin? Me too!"
While Bevin reveled being in the media glare of Trump's visit, Beshear's campaign pointed to the get-out-the-vote effort by Democrats built over months of work by volunteers. Beshear's campaign said Monday that a milestone was reached when Beshear knocked on the one millionth door in the Democratic grassroots campaign asking people for their votes.
The contest is being watched for early signs of how the increasingly partisan impeachment furor in Washington might impact Trump and other Republican incumbents in 2020. Among those with an especially keen interest: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who's on the ballot himself next year in Kentucky.
McConnell took the stage Monday night in his home state to praise Trump's efforts to reshape the federal courts by appointing conservatives to the bench.
Bevin sounded confident about his prospects for a second term and said the president's eleventh-hour appearance would give him a boost.
"I think we're going to win, regardless," the governor told reporters. "I think we'll win even more, with this kind of wind in our sails."
Pointing to Bevin's conservative credentials, Trump praised the governor's opposition to abortion, his support for gun rights and his tough stance against illegal immigration.
Trump teased that Bevin is "such a pain" when advocating for Kentucky's interests in Washington, adding: "Isn't that really what you want in a governor?"
Beshear accused Bevin of dividing people, pointing to the governor's feud with teachers who opposed his pension and education proposals. Beshear promised to be a governor who "listens more than he talks, who solves more problems than he creates and would never engage in the type of bullying and name calling we've seen."
Bevin regularly sought to hitch himself to Trump's popularity throughout the campaign — a strategy intended to rev up his conservative base. It was on full display Monday night.
Continuing his strategy of nationalizing the race, Bevin urged Kentucky voters to send a message to congressional Democrats advancing the impeachment of the president. He said they were making "a mockery of the political process."
On the gun issue, Bevin lashed out at so-called "red flag" laws, which allow courts to issue temporary orders barring someone from possessing guns based on a showing of imminent danger. Such laws might be "safe sounding" but infringe on rights, he said.
It's one of many sharp differences between the campaign rivals. Beshear calls such a measure a step toward greater public protection. He said it's consistent with his support for gun rights but gives due-process rights to the person seen as a risk.
In the campaign's closing days, Beshear downplayed the spillover effect from Trump's rally into voting the next day across the bluegrass state.
"This race isn't about what's going on in the White House, it's about what's going on in each and every home across Kentucky," Beshear said. "And our voters know that a governor can't impact federal-type issues."
Associated Press Writer Dylan Lovan contributed to this report from Louisville, Kentucky.