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Kentucky Republican Gubernatorial Candidates Trade Lead In Indecisive Primary Night

Bevin supporters gathered in Louisville.
Bevin supporters gathered in Louisville.

Louisville businessman Matt Bevin on Tuesday night claimed an 83-vote campaign victory to become the Republican nominee for Kentucky governor—but the official result may not be known for several days.

His nearest opponent, Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, said he'd ask for a recanvass of the votes.

The winner will face Democrat Jack Conway in the November general election.

The recanvass could be completed by May 28.

The night saw Bevin leading the results most of the night—until the western part of the state began showing strong support for Comer. For a period late in the night, Comer took a slight lead. But Bevin would reclaim it.

Despite Comer’s call for a recanvass, Bevin remained confident following the election results—he told about 200 supporters at the Galt House in downtown Louisville that he looks forward to facing off with Conway in the general election.

“We will have good, civil discourse, I hope,” Bevin said.

He said his “blueprint for Kentucky” that he will push in the coming months is premised on “job creation and economic opportunity.”

Sticking with the message he’s campaigned with, Bevin said he will continue to push for school choice and remove the Common Core Standards. Bevin also said the state needs to push back on EPA regulations; he said the regulations will stifle the coal industry in Kentucky.

Bevin promised to “dismantle” Kentucky’s health care exchange by 2016 if elected governor.

“In year one we will transition everyone on our Kynect exchange during the open enrollment period in 2016 to the federal level exchange,” he said—drawing boisterous cheers from his supporters. Bevin, who spoke on stage Tuesday following his running mate Jenean Hampton, said there are many more details in his campaign that he will get into as the weeks continue.

He did not address the call for a recanvass.

The vote broke down like this in the tally late Tuesday night:

  • Bevin 33%
  • Comer 33%
  • Heiner 27%
  • Will T. Scott 7%

Once all of the ballots were counted showing Bevin ahead by 83 votes, Comer emerged from the "war room" at his rally in Frankfort and gave a subdued speech thanking his supporters. Comer requested a recanvass of the votes—retabulating the votes from voter machines. He said that “a couple counties that came in at the end were bizarre.”

“They’ve declared me dead more than once in the campaign and more than once tonight and we came back but hopefully we can find those 83 votes and go from there,” Comer said after the rally.

If Comer gains more votes after the recanvass, he says he might call for a full-fledged recount, which he would have to pay for.

If Bevin comes out as the winner, Comer said he will gladly concede and support him.

“I told Matt coming over here that if the numbers stand and he’s the winner then I will do everything in my ability to support Matt Bevin and see that he’s the next governor of Kentucky,” said Comer, who ran with state Sen. Chris McDaniel as his running mate.

Comer said that he and Bevin had become close over the course of the campaign because they were both the subject of attacks by Hal Heiner and his supporters.

And he said that may have helped Bevin take the lead.

“I think that he was the beneficiary of a lot of this mischief that took place in the last two weeks of the campaign,” Comer said. “History will show that that was probably one of the dirtiest tricks in the history of Kentucky politics.”

Heiner conceded the race to Bevin earlier Tuesday evening.

"While we are disappointed, I urge you stay involved. Support the Republican candidate," Heiner told his supporters.

Before the election, turnout was forecast to be at about 10 percent of registered voters. But in a late night Tweet, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes said the unofficial turnout was 12.6 percent.

WFPL's Ashley Lopez and Jacob Ryan contributed to this story.

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