Officials say Bevin, Comer race too close to call

Matt Bevin and James Comer
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT/AP) - Officials say the Republican race for Kentucky governor is too close to call, and at least one of the candidates said they would push for a recanvass of votes.

The battle between Agriculture Commissioner James Comer and Louisville businessman Matt Bevin will likely continue long after the polls are closed. The two appear to be separated by just 83 votes, according to results from the Kentucky Board of Elections.

At least one media outlet called the race for Bevin, who received a congratulatory Tweet from Senator Rand Paul. Bevin's camp scheduled a speech for 9 p.m., but that was cancelled after the votes from other precincts started rolling in and the picture became a bit fuzzy.

The Associated Press, which called many of the races Tuesday night, said it would not call the Republican primary for governor until more information becomes available. The AP said there are an unknown number of military and provisional ballots still outstanding, and either candidate can request a recount. The race between Bevin and Comer was "a virtual tie," according to the AP.

It was a night that was initially predicted to be tight, but those early indications never foretold what would come as the last precincts were counted.

Early returns on Tuesday showed Bevin with at least a five percent lead over his competitors. But as the votes rolled in, Comer crept up from third to hold the second spot for a while and then he skipped ahead of Bevin by about 30 votes. Once all of the precincts were in, Bevin inched ahead by 83 votes.

The final tally had Bevin with about 33 percent of the votes or 70,479, Comer with 70,396, Hal Heiner with 57,948 and Will T. Scott with 15,364 votes. Grimes says they are also waiting on military votes from six Republicans and six Democrats.

All indications are that Attorney General Jack Conway, who easily defeated Geoff Young for the Democratic nomination for Kentucky governor, will have to wait a bit longer to know his opponent in the fall.

During a speech Tuesday night, Comer said he wanted a re-canvass. There is no runoff election in Kentucky, and no automatic recounts. State law allows for recanvassing only if a county clerk or a county board of elections notices a discrepancy or if a candidate makes a written request to the Secretary of State.

Heiner, a former Louisville city councilman, conceded at 8:40 p.m. and he and Scott both said they had called Bevin to congratulate him.

The GOP race was expected to be tight, in part, because of low expectations for voter turnout. Now it appears as though it will be decided by roughly 60,000 votes.

Voter turnout was expected to be around 10 percent, meaning about 320,000 people would be at the polls. As of 8:30 p.m., the Kentucky State Board of Elections reported turnout at about 11 percent or 346,450 voters. There are roughly 3.2 million registered voters in Kentucky.

Earlier Tuesday, WKYT's Bill Bryant said the Republican race would be the most interesting race to watch.

"The Republican outcome is uncertain as voters go to the polls today," he said. "We will be carefully watching to see how each candidate performs in his area of strength. Polling has shown an advantage for Hal Heiner in the Louisville area, for Matt Bevin in the Republican stronghold of Northern Kentucky and James Comer in the plowed grounds of Western Kentucky. Of course, Will T. Scott has worked to turn up the vote in his native Eastern Kentucky."

All four candidates had waged a furious campaign in an unusually crowded field for a Republican primary in a state that has long been dominated by Democrats.

The campaign was overshadowed by allegations from a former girlfriend that Comer had emotionally and physically abused her while the two dated in college more than two decades ago.

Comer and Bevin quickly used the allegations to paint Heiner as a dirty campaigner, changing the dynamic of the race just weeks before voters went to the polls.

TOTALS | Get election results HERE.

What did Kentuckians say about the election?

Polls are open & voters are casting their ballots. | Mark Barber