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Review shows Bevin holding lead in Kentucky GOP primary

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Matt Bevin held on to his 83-vote lead after a state review of voting tallies Thursday, clearing the way for him to become Kentucky’s Republican nominee for governor and resurrect a political career that once appeared doomed.

Bevin has reveled in doing things his own way after losing to U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell in last year’s primary. While James Comer and Hal Heiner scooped up endorsements and TV time, Bevin waited until the last day to file for the race and start another campaign that seemed destined to become another footnote in the state’s Republican politics.

But Thursday, election officials in Kentucky’s 120 counties reviewed the vote totals from electronic voting machines and absentee ballots, showing Bevin leading Comer by just 83 votes in one of the closest elections in state history. The review, called a recanvass, began promptly at 9 a.m. across the state, with county clerks sending in their results to a fax machine in the Secretary of State’s office.

By the afternoon, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes said the review showed no change in the governor’s race, with Bevin holding his 83-vote lead. One county remained to be reviewed, but Grimes said she did not expect it to change the outcome.

Comer did not concede. Spokesman Edwin King said he is vacationing in Florida with his family and would make a statement on Friday “about the next steps he will take in this race.”

Comer can still challenge the results in court. He has until Friday to ask a judge to order a recount. But it will be expensive, and Comer will have to pay for it himself. The state Board of Elections will not certify the results until June 9.

Bevin will now set his sights on Democratic nominee Jack Conway, a two-time statewide election winner as Kentucky’s attorney general who stockpiled more than $1 million in campaign donations during a primary of minimal opposition. Bevin, meanwhile, ran his race with more than $1 million of his own money, earned from his career as an investment banker.

But with few endorsements and a mostly volunteer staff, Bevin attacked the county Lincoln Day dinner circuit that mostly shunned him last year and found a niche for himself as an alternative to the mudslinging that enveloped the candidacies of Comer and Heiner in the campaign’s final days. His message was summed up by a TV ad in the final week where actors portraying Comer and Heiner sat at a children’s table and threw food at each other while Bevin smiled and a narrator said, “Kentucky can do much better.”

Now Bevin will have to rally the Republican Party following a divisive primary. The state’s leading elected officials have embraced him, and McConnell has vowed to endorse him. But Bevin still has to prove he can win over Republican donors that have mostly avoided him.

“If I were Matt Bevin and his campaign, I’d be calling as many of those (donors) as I can right now,” veteran Republican strategist Scott Jennings said. “He’s run two elections in Kentucky and in neither case did he have much success raising money from donors in the state.”

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