PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo is celebrating her party’s razor-thin win in Tuesday’s election for Kentucky governor, arguing it shows the path to retaking the White House in 2020.
“It’s a huge victory, and a huge loss for President Trump,” Raimondo told WPRI 12 on Wednesday, describing herself as “ecstatic” over the result.
Raimondo was one of the players behind Kentucky Democrat Andy Beshear’s successful campaign due to her role as chair of the Democratic Governors Association, which plowed $5.5 million into the race on his behalf — much of it raised by Raimondo with the assistance of her DGA treasurer, former IGT Chairman Don Sweitzer.
“It was a really hard race. It went down to the wire,” she said. “We didn’t win by much, but we won. Most people didn’t think we could win.” (While Republican incumbent Matt Bevin has asked for a recount, Beshear has already begun announcing transition plans.)
Kentucky is one of three red states where Raimondo was tasked with trying to win governor’s races as this year’s DGA chair, along with Mississippi and Louisiana. Her candidate in Mississippi, Jim Hood, lost Tuesday by 5.5 percentage points, which Raimondo argued was still a strong showing considering Trump had won the state by nearly 18 points in 2016.
“The DGA raised more money this year than ever in an off-cycle year, and that did not happen by accident,” she said. “When I took over people were, like, ‘Oh my goodness, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi — good luck, Gina.’ I knew it was going to be an uphill battle and we were going to have to raise money. We set a very ambitious goal and we achieved it.”
Beshear’s 5,300-vote win was notable in part because Republicans swept to easy victories in the other statewide races on the Kentucky ballot, reinforcing that the state remains friendly territory for the GOP and that Bevin was unusually unpopular. Raimondo also said her side was heavily outspent by the Republican Governors Association.
“The fact that we were able to win despite the president’s focus, despite Mitch McConnell’s focus, despite the RGA’s focus, in a place where Trump was a stronghold and won so handily just a few years ago — I think it’s a harbinger of 2020,” Raimondo said. “It means Democrats have an excellent chance in 2020.”
Trump held a rally Monday night to give Bevin an 11th-hour boost, with the president himself acknowledging the race had become a referendum on him due to Bevin playing up his bona fides as a staunch White House ally. Brad Pascale, Trump’s campaign manager, put the blame squarely on the candidate after the results came in.
“The president just about dragged Gov. Matt Bevin across the finish line, helping him run stronger than expected in what turned into a very close race at the end,” Pascale said in a statement Tuesday night.
Raimondo praised Beshear’s campaign manager, Eric Hyers, who previously ran her own 2014 campaign for governor after piloting David Cicilline’s first two runs for Congress. She also suggested changes she instituted at the DGA — including installing her own senior adviser, Jon Romano, after taking over — made the organization more effective.
“We made a lot of changes in the staff, just to cut down on our administrative budget so more money could go into the races,” she said. “We really beefed up our data and digital operations. We made some changes in the political team, and I’d like to think that helped, as well.”
“We ran a better operation,” she added. “It’s not just money. It’s how you spend it.”
Raimondo’s remaining task is to try and help Louisiana’s incumbent Democratic governor, John Bel Edwards, survive a runoff election a week from Saturday. “I think we’re going to come out of this winning two out of three,” she said. “I feel very good about our chances in Louisiana. … To pull off two major victories in deep red southern states, I feel great about it.”
In Raimondo’s view, the Kentucky results also offer a lesson to the candidates battling to be her party’s 2020 nominee against Trump.
“Clearly Republicans voted for Andy Beshear, otherwise he wouldn’t be governor,” she said. “That means, man, we have a great chance in 2020 to put a Democrat in the White House.”
Democratic candidates for governor in red and swing states, Raimondo said, “have not been focused on impeachment, what’s going on in the Beltway. What we’ve been focused on is jobs, health care, education, and as [Michigan Gov.] Gretchen Witmer said, fixing the damn roads.”
The presidential hopefuls “should focus on that,” she said.
Raimondo will hand over the reins of the DGA at the end of the year to New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, who is currently her vice chair. She said she will still be involved, citing North Carolina Gov. Rory Cooper’s re-election campaign as “the big one next year.” But she also indicated she is contemplating other ways of staying engaged in national politics.
“I could see myself getting more involved in the presidential race once I decide who I’m going to get behind,” she said.
Ted Nesi (email@example.com) is WPRI 12’s politics and business editor and a Target 12 investigative reporter. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook