LOUISVILLE -- Republican Gov. Matt Bevin has lashed out at protesting teachers and ridiculed judges during a tumultuous term steering Kentucky on a conservative course while struggling to fix pension problems.
Now the pugnacious governor faces the first test of his reelection campaign in a race that could offer clues about the mood of the electorate heading into a presidential election year.
Voters get to speak today.
In a state recently dominated by the GOP, Democrats see an opportunity to win back the governorship due to Bevin's self-inflicted political damage, including a caustic feud with public school teachers.
Three prominent Democrats, including the son of Bevin's predecessor, are competing for the chance to challenge Bevin, who shares a style similar to President Donald Trump's. The two Republican businessmen are proudly unconventional conservatives who favor social media and attack critics fiercely.
Bevin plays up his ties to Trump, who won Kentucky overwhelmingly in 2016 and remains a political force in the bluegrass state.
"You could like me or dislike me," Bevin said recently. "You could like or dislike this president. But I'm telling you, you want the governor of your state to have a good, personal friendship with the president of the United States. It doesn't hurt your state."
The fight for Kentucky's top political job could be an early test of where both political parties stand with voters heading into the 2020 presidential election contests -- something Bevin hopes works to his benefit. "You hear a lot about what's coming in 2020 and it's true," he told the National Rifle Association recently. "But I'm the proxy for what's going to happen in 2020 as they (Democrats) experiment in Kentucky in 2019. So if you happen to want to get engaged in the political process, to stand in the gap in this year in advance of the big year next year, I know a guy. I know a guy in Kentucky who would be grateful for your help."
But the primary could signal whether Bevin has fence-mending to do within his own party.
Bevin ran a low-key primary campaign touting low unemployment and job growth, but he was the prime target for Democrats seeking his job.
His most bitter political nemesis, state Attorney General Andy Beshear, was seen as the Democratic front-runner since the campaign started. Beshear's father is a popular former two-term governor.
Beshear faced tough challenges from ex-state auditor Adam Edelen and longtime state Rep. Rocky Adkins in the Democratic primary.
Beshear played up his many courtroom fights with Bevin's administration over education and pension issues. He filed the lawsuit that led the Kentucky Supreme Court to strike down a Bevin-backed pension law on procedural grounds last year. The pension issue remains unresolved despite a Republican-dominated legislature.