UPDATE: 11:57 p.m. EST -- Matt Bevin won the gubernatorial race in Kentucky in a near landslide victory, winning 53 percent of the votes, the Courier-Journal reported.
"Do not forget we are one Kentucky. Black, White. Rural. Urban," Bevin, who beat Democrat Jack Conway, said, according to the report.
Republican candidate Matt Bevin has been projected the winner of Kentucky’s gubernatorial election, the Associated Press reported. Bevin defeated Democratic candidate Jack Conway to become the state's second Republican governor in the last four decades, following a tight race that saw Democratic candidate Conway with only a slight advantage to Bevin in the polls leading up to Tuesday.
Kentucky's gubernatorial race was widely seen as a litmus test for voters’ attitudes going into the 2016 presidential election. Democrats have unexpectedly clung to the Kentucky governor’s seat throughout the Obama presidency, so many expected a Republican to break through Tuesday. But Bevin, a tea party outsider, raised eyebrows when he won the GOP’s gubernatorial primary, and focus shifted to whether Kentucky voters were ready to vote in an unconventional candidate -- a potential precursor to the state's presidential primary last year, which is expected to include "outsider" candidates Donald Trump and Ben Carson.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you to all who voted today. We are Kentucky! pic.twitter.com/fnYpSzwO5I
— Matt Bevin (@MattBevin) November 4, 2015
Kentucky voters were faced with a choice between nearly polar-opposite candidates, with Bevin and Conway disagreeing on core issues including education, healthcare and same-sex marriage -- a hot topic in the state after the Rowan County clerk Kim Davis was controversially jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.
Bevin is a successful businessman who attempted and failed to unseat Sen. Mitch McConnell last year in the party primary. During his campaign, Bevin said he would roll back Kentucky’s Medicaid expansion -- but later said he would only stop new people from enrolling rather than taking coverage away from those who already have it. He also touted a Trump-like message of being beholden to no one.
“I have no favors to pay back. There’s not one person in this state who believes they are going to have a job in my administration,” he told voters at a campaign stop last week. “Donald Trump is an interesting fellow. … Part of what people appreciate about him is the very same thing. He doesn’t owe anybody anything.”
— Dr. Rand Paul (@RandPaul) November 4, 2015
Conway is a two-term attorney general who lost a Senate race to Rand Paul in 2010. He largely ran his campaign on expanding the state’s Medicaid program and push for more early childhood education.
Kentucky is one of several states to vote in a governor in an off-year election Tuesday, along with Mississippi and Louisiana.