Trump visits state to laud, raise funds for Gov. Bevin

Associated Press | Susan Walsh

President Donald Trump, right, talks with Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin as they walk down down the steps of Air Force One on Wednesday at Louisville International Airport in Louisville.

LOUISVILLE -- Republican Matt Bevin is a "great governor" who might not be fully appreciated, President Donald Trump said Wednesday, seeking to boost the incumbent's efforts against Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear in this year's Kentucky election.

During a speech Wednesday at the AMVETS national convention in Louisville, Trump called his fellow Republican "a man who has really done a great job. I don't know if he's appreciated. Sometimes it doesn't work out that way. But he's done an incredible job, and your state is doing phenomenal business."

Bevin happily welcomed the president and routinely describes their friendship as an asset the state can't afford to lose. Trump easily carried Kentucky in winning the presidency and remains a formidable force in a state where his popularity eclipses Bevin's.

Bevin also received a financial boost from Trump, who headlined a private fundraiser later in the day.

In his speech to the veterans service organization, Trump spent more time praising another Kentuckian who is his chief congressional ally -- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. He cited the state's senior senator for his work to cut taxes, increase defense spending and improve veterans' services.

Trump gushed about McConnell's work to win Senate confirmation for his nominees to the federal bench.

"For him that's a passion like I've never seen before," Trump said.

McConnell is seeking another Senate term next year.

"I'll be here campaigning for Mitch, and I'll be campaigning for Matt and we're going to get them both back in," Trump said.

Bevin routinely touts the state's job growth and low unemployment in his pitch for a second term. But his popularity has suffered for his efforts to revamp Kentucky's chronically underfunded public pension systems and for his feuds with education groups.

This year, the Kentucky governor's race is being watched closely for any signs of vulnerability among Republican incumbents aligned with Trump heading into the 2020 elections. Kentucky is one of three states electing governors this year, along with Louisiana and Mississippi.

Trump made a last-minute pitch for Bevin in the state's May primary. Despite the president's support through Twitter and a recorded phone message to voters, Bevin barely topped 50% of the GOP vote against three other candidates.

Democratic strategist Mark Riddle questioned whether Trump's popularity will rub off on Bevin.

"I'm not sure if he brings Trump in a bunch that it's going to help him," Riddle said recently. "We all know each other here and people talk. And I think they've made up their mind about Bevin, even if they like Trump."

Bevin literally wrapped himself in the president's image just days before the visit when he donned a jacket decorated with images of Trump's face while walking around the state fair. The two businessmen are similarly unconventional conservative politicians. Both favor social media and attack critics fiercely.

While Bevin hung out with Trump, Beshear went to northern Kentucky to talk about workforce development.

"While Andy is focused on lifting up working families, there's nothing Matt Bevin can do to escape from his failed record of tearing down public education, trying to illegally cut pensions and constantly bullying teachers," Beshear's campaign said in a statement.

The state Democratic Party said it's filing a campaign finance complaint with the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance about Bevin's fundraiser, alleging that the invitation was part of a scheme to circumvent campaign finance limits. Bevin's campaign manager, Davis Paine said the complaint makes "wild and untrue accusations."

The Democratic congressman representing Louisville had his own message for the president. In a tweet, U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth said that "many of us here stand in defiance of and in opposition to the vile, hate-filled speech you use every day to divide and distract our nation. Enjoy your visit."

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