Kentucky candidates focus on abortion, gambling

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Republican Gov. Matt Bevin and Democratic challenger Andy Beshear fought to shift the battleground of their bitter campaign in Kentucky on Thursday, both turning to divisive social issues to highlight their starkly different visions for the state.

Beshear doubled down on his support for expanded gambling as neighboring Indiana starts allowing sports betting — a venture that could siphon more money from the bluegrass state.

Bevin’s campaign released a radio ad touting the governor’s opposition to abortion.

The jockeying comes as the rival campaigns emphasize issues they see as favorable to their candidates as the race gets set to intensify with less than two months before the Nov. 5 election.

Beshear, the state’s attorney general, supports legalizing casino gambling and using the tax revenue to help support the state’s chronically underfunded public pension systems. Beshear estimates Kentucky could reap more than $500 million in yearly revenue by allowing expanded gambling. That money now flows to other states where Kentuckians gamble at casinos, he says, including Indiana, the latest state to allow sports betting.

“Expanded gaming is a long-overdue and common sense way to make Kentucky more competitive and protect the hard-earned pensions of our teachers and first responders,” Beshear said in a statement. “While Matt Bevin is making up excuses and false claims, Indiana and our neighboring states continue to steal our revenue.”

Bevin has criticized expanded gambling proposals, arguing that societal costs make the proposals “a sucker’s bet.” Beshear’s plan calls for expanding gambling in a “responsible manner” that includes dealing with gambling addiction.

A bill aimed at legalizing sports betting in Kentucky died during this year’s legislative session. An analysis of the proposal estimated the venture would bring in at least $20 million a year in new taxes. Supporters are expected to push the proposal again during next year’s session.

Meanwhile, Bevin’s campaign tried to turn the campaign back toward a different social issue by releasing a web video and a radio ad focusing on abortion. The radio ad notes that Bevin signed a series of bills passed by the GOP-led legislature that put new restrictions or conditions on a woman’s ability to get an abortion.

“Kentucky is a Christian, conservative, pro-life state,” the ad’s narrator says. “Matt Bevin is the Christian, conservative, pro-lifer who will keep Kentucky moving forward.”

Some of the abortion laws signed by Bevin are bottled up in federal court, including one that would mostly ban abortions in the state once a fetal heartbeat is detected. A fetal heartbeat can be detected as early as six weeks into pregnancy, before many women know they are pregnant.

Bevin has repeatedly made abortion a flash point in the governor’s race. The radio commercial notes that Beshear is supported by abortion-rights groups.

Beshear stressed his faith and played up the pastors in his family tree in his first TV ad of the general election campaign. In the ad, released earlier in the summer, Beshear says his faith guides his work for “the lost, the lonely and the left behind” and influences his work on health care.

Beshear supports the landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide. That ruling allowed reasonable restrictions on the procedure and Beshear supports those restrictions, especially related to late-term abortion procedures, his campaign has said.

Kentucky is one of several states to pass laws intended to get the Supreme Court to reconsider the Roe v. Wade ruling.