Republican Matt Bevin, a businessman and Tea Party favorite, beat Democrat Jack Conway on Tuesday to win the race for Kentucky governor -- becoming only the second GOP governor in the state in four decades.
The off-year election, one of many state and local contests held Tuesday across the country, was seen by some as a test for outsider candidates at a time when several such candidates are seeking the GOP presidential nomination. Bevin, who has run as an outsider ever since he unsuccessfully challenged Sen. Mitch McConnell last year, was declared the winner over state Attorney General Conway in the gubernatorial race shortly after polls closed Tuesday evening.
Independent Drew Curtis was a distant third in Tuesday's election.
The office is currently held by a Democrat. Bevin's election gives Republicans control of the state's executive branch along with a commanding majority in the state Senate. Democrats still have an eight-seat majority in the state House of Representatives.
Throughout his campaign, Bevin cast himself as an outsider, in both government and politics. The 48-year-old investment manager has never held public office and was shunned by the state's Republican political establishment when he challenged McConnell in the 2014 Senate primary. He never took any meaningful steps to repair those relationships after the race, often deflecting assistance from party officials and likely affecting his fundraising ability.
He relied more on the details of his personal story — his Christian faith and his four adopted children from Ethiopia — than his political policies.
"This is the chance for a fresh start, it truly is, and we really need it," Bevin told a packed crowd at The Galt House in Louisville. "I believe this offers us an opportunity to change the tenor of what has become expected in the world of politics."
Bevin's campaign was mostly self-funded, and he preferred to speak to small gatherings of voters instead of courting influential donors. His running mate, Jenean Hampton, is a retired Air Force officer who moved to Kentucky from Detroit and whose only political experience is a lopsided loss to the former speaker of the Kentucky House of Representatives in 2014. Now, Hampton will become the first black person to ever hold statewide office in Kentucky.
Conway conceded the race shortly before 9 p.m. at the Frankfort Convention Center, telling the quiet crowd it was not the result he had hoped for, "but it is the result we respect." He said he called Bevin and wished him well.
"It was a cordial phone call. I told him I remain positive about moving this state forward, and if he ever needed any assistance, this Democrat was at his disposal," Conway said.
Bevin ran an aggressive campaign, often arguing with reporters and even dropping by the state Democratic Party headquarters, twice, to argue with them about their signs criticizing him as dishonest. But it appeared Bevin was able to tap into voters' growing frustration with their government to overcome any concerns they may have had about his temperament. He has promised some sweeping changes, most notably repealing the state's expanded Medicaid program and kynect, the state-run health insurance exchange. Those decisions will affect the health insurance of about a half-million people.
Focus will almost immediately shift to the state House elections in 2016, where McConnell has vowed to flex his powerful fundraising muscle to help Republicans to take over the only Southern state legislative body controlled by Democrats.
The results Tuesday were also a potentially troubling sign for Democrats ahead of next year's presidential election.
Bevin waged a campaign to scale back the state's Medicaid expansion that was made possible by President Obama's health care overhaul. He also played up his support of Kim Davis, the Rowan County clerk jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.