In May, lifelong Democrat Reggie Dickerson was all in for state House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins.
Adkins was one of three major candidates in the Democratic primary for governor. He was often called a moderate choice who could keep people like Dickerson in the fold; Adam Edelen and Andy Beshear supported abortion rights, but Adkins called himself pro-life and had a long history of supporting anti-abortion bills in the legislature.
Adkins described himself as “a very moderate, middle of the road, common sense Democrat.” It summed up why he was Dickerson’s perfect candidate, to say nothing of the fact that they’re both from Sandy Hook in northeastern Kentucky’s Elliott County.
Next week, Dickerson will be casting his vote for a different party. The election may depend on how many voters like him do that.
In an interview, Dickerson called Gov. Matt Bevin “the worst politician” he’s ever seen. But he still plans to vote for him come Election Day. The begrudging choice comes down to policy issues, particularly Dickerson’s staunch beliefs about abortion and marriage.
According to Dickerson, many Eastern Kentuckians who supported Adkins are unable to accept Beshear’s views on abortion. Beshear says he supports the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade but also supports some limits on abortion, especially late in pregnancy.
One point of specific concern for Dickerson is Beshear’s endorsement byNARAL Pro-Choice America just before the primary. That may have helped Beshear when he was competing for urban votes with Edelen, but Dickerson said it will hurt him during the general election.
“Beshear and Edelen were in a foot race to see who could get to the furthest left,” Dickerson said. “Now, you can’t take that endorsement back. There’s too many pro-life Democrats in Eastern and Western Kentucky.”
That’s why there’s “not a shadow of a doubt” in Dickerson’s mind that Beshear will lose to Bevin. He is similarly convinced that Adkins would have handily beaten Bevin.
But Adkins is campaigning for Beshear, and some of his supporters are still inside the party lines.
“Literally everybody I know that was for Rocky is now for Beshear,” said Jerry Deaton of Frankfort, a native of Breathitt County in the heart of Eastern Kentucky.
Deaton said he voted for Adkins in the primary because of his more moderate views and concerns about the other candidates’ electability, but has transitioned his support to Beshear. “It was a tough decision for me,” he said. “I felt like the rural vote was what we had to have to win. But I think Beshear is going to do quite well in the rural areas now, too.”
Rural support for Beshear may have been aided by Adkins’ vocal support for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate. He has attended several events to stump for Beshear, and earlier this month, he was featured in a Beshear TV commercial.
“Kentucky needs Andy Beshear as governor,” Adkins says in the ad. “He’ll fight for us and treat us with respect. Our current governor? He doesn’t do that.”
Adkins’ support is vital to Beshear’s hopes, according to Deaton.
“Rocky was very gracious in being willing” to campaign for Beshear, Deaton said. “I’m very happy that Beshear reached out to Rocky on this. I think it’s gonna make a difference.”
Dickerson remains unconvinced. He said he understood why Adkins “feels the need” to stump for Beshear, but that show of support cannot overrule policy concerns looming large in more conservative pockets of the state.
And Dickerson still pines for what might have been.
“The truth of the matter is, Matt Bevin, Andy Beshear — they don’t care about this area,” he said. “It’s just a cold fact. Where you’ve been raised and where you lay your head at night, you’re gonna help that area. Rocky was the hope that we had here in Eastern Kentucky.”
Emily Laytham, a University of Kentucky journalism student, is covering the 2019 gubernatorial race for The State Journal.