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Matt Bevin Starts Trying to Bring the Kentucky Republican Party Together

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Bevin supporters gathered in Louisville.

Matt Bevin is the Republican nominee for governor.

That became official Friday morning when Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, who lost the Republican gubernatorial primary last week by 83 votes,announced that he's conceded the race.

What’s yet to be seen is whether Bevin will be able to unite the Republican Party, the majority of which didn’t vote for him in the primary election.

On Friday, Bevin and other Republican nominees for statewide office held a news conference to display unity within the party. On Saturday, Bevin will be joined by his former opponents for governor as well as members of Kentucky's congressional delegation for a "unity rally" in Lexington.

Still, Kentucky's most powerful Republican—Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell—has so far only issued a one-sentence endorsement of Bevin.

"I congratulate Matt Bevin on his victory and endorse him for governor," McConnell said Friday in the statement.

McConnell trounced Bevin during last year's primary for the GOP Senate nomination. During that race, McConnell’s campaign characterized Bevin as an “East Coast con man,” accusing him of taking a bailout for a company he owns in Connecticut and padding his resume

Bevin, in turn, refused to endorse McConnell last year following the primary election, angering supporters of the now six-term senator.

At a press conference on Friday, Bevin downplayed his fraught history with McConnell.

"Have people said stuff? Sure. Guess what? In the world of campaigns people say a lot of things,” Bevin said.

Even more important than "unity" might be whether Bevin will be able to motivate Kentucky donors to help finance his campaign, which so far has been largely self-funded.

Bevin put at least $1.75 million of his own money into his race, according to state election finance records. As of May 11, had only raised about $85,000. Meanwhile, Comer raised over $2 million from supporters.

Democratic nominee Jack Conway's campaign had about $1.3 million in cash as of the last campaign filing deadline.

Bevin, who officially entered the governor’s race only an hour before the deadline, said he didn’t have the time to focus on fundraising.

“Some of it was a function of timing. I could either focus on raising money or raising issues, talking about ideas and bringing those to the table in order to win the race. We did exactly that, this will be a different animal,” Bevin said during a press conference on Friday.

Bevin said that he will be able to take advantage of the fundraising networks of McConnell and Sen. Rand Paul, but he hinted that the men might not stump for him frequently.

“I expect [their support] to be significant and that’s based on conversations we’ve had it will be the case and I look forward to it. But again, with respect to their personal time it will be as much as they can give,” Bevin said.

Comer's concession came the day after a recanvass of the votes cast last week showed no significant changes. The concession ended speculation that a recount would take place.

“I believe it is in the best interest of the Republican Party and Kentucky to avoid a long, divisive, and expensive recount. Now is the time to be united against Jack Conway and I stand united with Matt Bevin,” Comer said in an email to supporters on Friday.

Democrats were quick to respond to Bevin’s nomination, putting up a website that features quotes of Republicans disparaging Bevin in the media over the last couple years.

During Bevin’s press conference he called Democrats “immature.”

“If the best that you’re going to hear from them is ‘jobs, jobs and more jobs’ and ‘we’re for the working class people,’ we’re going to run away with this,” Bevin said.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives. Email Ryland at rbarton@lpm.org.