Businessman and tea party favorite Matt Bevin on Friday become the official Republican nominee in Kentucky gubernatorial race after his opponent, Agricultural Commissioner James Comer, conceded the extremely close race.
Bevin had led by just 83 votes in last week's primary to succeed Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear, who is term-limited. Comer requested a re-canvass, which was conducted Thursday. But Bevin remained in the lead after election officials checked printed vote totals against the figures sent to the Kentucky Board of Elections.
In his concession statement on Friday morning, Comer endorsed Bevin and said he would help him defeat the Democratic nominee, Attorney General Jack Conway, in November.
"Throughout the entire primary campaign, I grew to appreciate Matt Bevin’s knowledge of the issues, his work ethic and his morals," Comer said. "Matt ran a clean campaign which focused on the issues important to Kentuckians. Matt Bevin will stand up to the special interest groups that have held our great state back and fight the corrupt elements that still exist in Frankfort."
Conway, for his part, said he looked forward "to a spirited race" against Bevin.
"This campaign is about ... moving Kentucky forward by creating good-paying jobs and growing our economy, investing in our education system at all levels and building out our infrastructure," the attorney general said on Friday. "I’m the only candidate with a proven record of putting people over politics, and that’s a commitment I promise to keep."
Political experts in the Bluegrass State have hypothesized that Bevin won because his two main opponents -- Comer and businessman Hal Heiner -- both become entangled in a scandal over abuse allegations leveled against Comer by a former girlfriend. Comer denied the accusations, and accused Heiner's campaign of being involved in spreading them. As the infighting between the two Republicans engulfed the race in its final weeks, Bevin presented himself as an untarnished conservative choice.
Since Bevin tried to unseat Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in a bitter Senate primary last year, it remains to be seen whether McConnell and his allies will coalesce around Bevin in the general election.
Bevin has been criticized for claiming he supported McConnell in the general election against Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, since he didn't publicly endorse the senator during that race. Bevin also did not donate to McConnell's campaign.
McConnell had previously told the Kentucky Herald-Leader he wouldn't endorse in the gubernatorial primary until it was called.
"I have no reason to expect the party won't be unified, and we'll find out as we move forward," he said.