FRANKFORT -- Reinserting immigration into his reelection campaign, Kentucky Republican Gov. Matt Bevin has embraced an issue Donald Trump rode to the presidency while acknowledging that illegal immigration isn't "a huge issue" for a state that lies far from the nation's borders.
Bevin's campaign released a TV ad this week that promotes cracking down on illegal immigration and prohibiting the creation of "sanctuary cities." He followed with another commercial touting his anti-abortion credentials -- another hot-button issue that has become a mainstay of his campaign.
It highlights a strategy to spotlight issues geared toward shoring up his social conservative support. The governor -- who has alienated some Kentuckians with his insults of teachers -- barely surpassed 50% of the vote against three challengers in the May GOP primary.
"He's got a lot of Republicans who aren't for him," said longtime Kentucky political commentator Al Cross. "And this may be his latest strategy to get Republicans behind him."
Bevin faces a tough challenge in November from Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear, who has stressed public education and health care in his campaign.
The governor conceded Monday that illegal immigration isn't "a huge issue for us as a state, but it's a concern for this country." Bevin told reporters that he brought up the issue because "it matters to people who live here."
"Surprisingly for a state that's not a border state, it comes up time and time again near the top of people's lists," he said. "And I think in some measure driven by the fact that nationally it's very topical. I think people believe that we should have immigration but it should follow the law."
The ad -- alleging that Beshear would allow illegal immigrants to "swarm our state" -- was condemned by Beshear's campaign as a "baseless, false attack ad." The ad came out at a time when the Kentucky State Fraternal Order of Police endorsed Beshear.
"As attorney general, Beshear made sure that Kentucky did not have any sanctuary cities so that Kentucky would receive its share of federal funds for law enforcement," Beshear campaign spokesman Sam Newton said in a statement Monday.
GOP strategist Scott Jennings said the immigration ad is part of a strategy to nationalize the governor's race while aligning with Trump, who remains popular in Kentucky.
"It's about Bevin cleaving to Trump," he said. "This is his way to show kinship with Trump."