For Beshear, tension becomes elation in late stages of primary night

Supporters of Attorney General Andy Beshear hug after he is declared the winner of the Democratic primary for governor. | Photo by Jeremy Chisenhall

The watch party for Attorney General Andy Beshear had all the makings of a good time for his supporters, but the crowd instead spent much of the primary night on pins and needles as he worked to fight off two competitors for the Democratic Party’s nomination in a race that was for a time too close to call.

Music blared over the speakers and alcohol filled the first floor of the C2 Event Venue while dozens of Beshear’s advocates watched him win the Democratic nomination for governor under bright blue lights.

Upon victory, Beshear was able to turn his attention to his agenda, and his new opponent, incumbent Gov. Matt Bevin.

“I’ll be a governor who measures our progress not by any polls, not by any approval ratings, but by how we can make people’s lives better,” Beshear said to an elated crowd at his watch party following his win. “How we can invest in our people and in our schools. How we can create the types of jobs and careers here in Kentucky that my children, and your children, will stay for.

“How we can work together, regardless of political party, to restore honesty, decency and transparency in this state government.”

But there was a long way to go between the closing of polls and Beshear’s victory speech. In fact, the most frequent mood of the night at the party was tension more than elation, as a roller-coaster ride in the polls kept the race neck-and-neck until late.

Things certainly started off well for the group in attendance, as Beshear jumped out to an early lead when the early returns began to come in from Lexington.

Things were a bit less positive for the group when Edelen took the lead back from Beshear with 21% of Lexington precincts reporting, but Edelen’s lead, much like his night, was short-lived. Beshear jumped back in front with 40% of Lexington accounted for and only strengthened his lead in Kentucky’s second-largest city from that point on.

That was reason for the cheers and drinks to continue.

Beshear also had strong returns early in northern Kentucky, as he took early leads in Boone and Campbell County.

However, it was then that Adkins started to turn the tide and roar back, as he began to pull in large victories throughout the counties of eastern Kentucky.

Judy Russell (right), a longtime supporter of Andy Beshear, reacts as House Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins builds a lead in the primary polls at the time. | Photo by Jeremy Chisenhall

Things were no longer as easy going at the C2. The race was too close to call. But a moment of relief did come quickly: Beshear was one of two left in contention, as Edelen had publicly conceded, leaving just the attorney general and Adkins.

Adkins led Beshear by 4 percentage points with half of the precincts reporting statewide, but that lead dwindled to less than 1% by the time that 72% of precinct results were in. With the race too close to call, once happy supporters were glued to the screens that loomed over their tables.

The second-biggest moment of the night came moments later, as returns from Jefferson County started to pour in and show Beshear with a massive lead, helping him take a lead statewide over Adkins that he wouldn’t surrender. Beshear’s margin of votes over Adkins statewide grew from 17,000 to 20,000, as Beshear started to notch more victories in western Kentucky counties.

“I was just ecstatic,” Judy Duvall, a longtime supporter of Beshear’s, said about the moment he took the lead. “It was very close.”

For Beshear’s supporters, there was only one moment that would produce a bigger cheer: when The New York Times called the race and named Beshear the winner.

“Oh my God, it was just heaven,” Duvall said.

An Andy Beshear supporter shares a laugh after Beshear is declared the winner .

An Andy Beshear supporter shares a laugh after Beshear is declared the winner of the Democratic primary for governor. Beshear will face Gov. Matt Bevin in the general election. | Photo by Jeremy Chisenhall

Supporters of Andy Beshear pose for a picture

Supporters of Andy Beshear pose for a picture at his watch party after he is declared the winner of the Democratic primary for governor. | Photo by Jeremy Chisenhall

The primary turned out to be a battle until the end, and as Beshear’s campaign turns its attention to Bevin and the election in November, it’s clear they already anticipate the general election will be just as much of a fight. Both Beshear and Jacqueline Coleman, his running mate for lieutenant governor, focused on Bevin in their victory speeches.

“The last team that Matt Bevin wants to run against is the guy he can’t beat and a public school teacher,” Coleman said.