The feud between Gov. Matt Bevin and his lieutenant governor, Bowling Green’s Jenean Hampton, might be a factor in November’s gubernatorial election, although observers said it’s difficult to determine now how much of an effect it will have in five months.
Hampton got her political start as a member of the local tea party, and many in that organization across the state are taking aim at Bevin’s treatment of his lieutenant governor.
Bevin left Hampton off his ticket as he runs for reelection this year, instead naming state Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, to be his running mate.
While Hampton has not outwardly criticized the Republican governor, she did publicly lobby to again be his running mate in an interview with the Daily News in January, saying “I think I’ve done a fantastic job; I think I’d be a shoo-in.”
She has also voiced frustrations at the removal of two of her staff members in recent months. The most recent battle concerns the state’s firing of her deputy chief of staff, Adrienne Southworth.
After Southworth’s dismissal, Hampton went to Twitter asking supporters to pray for her as she battles “dark forces,” and last week she sent an email to state officials saying Southworth will remain on her staff.
Bevin said Wednesday that he had no involvement in Southworth’s removal, according to The Associated Press.
Some tea party leaders across the state have said they will not support Bevin because of his treatment of Hampton, including a dozen tea party leaders who met with Bevin in November to lobby him to keep Hampton on his ticket.
The leaders told Bevin he would lose voters if he ditched Hampton, according to The Courier Journal.
Scott Lasley, political science department head at Western Kentucky University and Warren County Republican Party member, said losing the support of a faction of the state’s Republicans could make a difference in November, but “I think for it to matter, it will have to be a tight race. If it’s close, voter enthusiasm and turnout does matter.”
Perhaps the biggest loss for Bevin would be the grassroots support of tea party stalwarts.
“He has been able to draw on them in past elections,” Lasley said.
But the impact of the schism “is too early to tell,” Lasley said. “There are five months for things to play out.”
Local tea party representative Justin Poland declined to answer questions. Likewise, Hampton’s office and Bevin’s campaign did not respond to interview requests.
On Thursday, another politician who got his start with the local tea party, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Bowling Green, was asked by the Daily News about the rift.
“I’m a big fan of Jenean Hampton. She and I got to know each other through the tea party movement, actually here in Bowling Green,” Paul said. “I think she’s been a great lieutenant governor and I’m a big believer that she’s a great part of the tea party movement in Kentucky. I don’t know anything about the interpersonal relations between the governor and her, though.”
David Graham, chairman of the Warren County Republican Party, said the feud is not likely to change too many voters’ minds.
“I think over the last four years, most people have made their minds up about Gov. Bevin,” he said.
Still, Graham said picking fights with Hampton does not benefit the governor.
“Episodes like this certainly don’t help. ... It’s bewildering why he continues to make it harder for people to support him,” Graham said, adding that with all the positive economic news in the state, Republicans “should be focusing on all the good things going on now.”
Bevin won the Republican primary in May, but garnered only 52 percent of the vote (136,060 votes) in a field where his primary challenger, first-term state Rep. Robert Goforth of East Bernstadt, who has never run for statewide office, garnered 39 percent of the vote. A Smart Politics blog analysis found that Bevin’s 13.4 percent victory margin was the smallest of any Kentucky governor seeking to be reelected since the state implemented a primary system in 1903.
Bevin will face current Attorney General Andy Beshear, who won the Democratic nomination with 37.9 percent of the vote (149,438 total votes), primarily against former state Auditor Adam Edelen and longtime state Rep. Rocky Adkins of Sandy Hook.
Hampton, a Detroit native, is the first African-American to hold statewide office in Kentucky. She has lived in Bowling Green since 2003. Hampton first entered the political scene when she unsuccessfully ran against Democrat Jody Richards for the House District 20 seat in 2014.