Tea partier Matt Bevin will be the Republican nominee for governor in Kentucky this year, an improbable one-year turnaround for the insurgent candidate after his quixotic bid to unseat Sen. Mitch McConnell flamed out over Bevin's involvement in a pro-cockfighting rally.
Bevin defeated closest rival James Comer by just 83 votes in last week's primary, according to a final recanvassing of the ballots. Comer conceded defeat on Friday and said he would "enthusiastically endorse Matt Bevin for governor" going forward. Bevin will face Democrat Jack Conway in the general election.
How did he do it? The biggest factor was that Bevin's top opponents suffered a campaign-destroying scandal this time around.
Comer spent the final weeks of the campaign denying accusations made by a woman named Marilyn Thomas in the local press that he had physically abused her and taken her to an abortion clinic while they dated in college. Comer accused another GOP rival Hal Heiner of spreading the story, who denied involvement, but then apologized to Comer after it was revealed his running mate's husband had been in touch with a blogger who had spread rumors about the college abuse story online.
Bevin capitalized on the grotesque debate by portraying himself as above the fray with ads mocking the "food fight" between Comer and Heiner. His opponents collapsed in the polls and Bevin pulled off an upset.
The win is a headache for McConnell, who waged a scorched earth campaign against Bevin in 2014 in a race that looked far more personal on both sides than the usual primary contest.
Bevin's campaign never recovered from an odyssey that began after he was reported to attend a rally in support of legalizing cockfighting, a sport in which chickens fight to the death. At first he claimed he did not know the event was related to the cockfighting cause, but his story shifted until eventually a video emerged showing him telling attendees that he opposed federal laws against the practice because it was "part of the heritage of this state."