LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky Republican Gov. Matt Bevin says he will run for re-election in 2019, ending months of speculation as he has faced growing protests from public workers and teachers about his rhetoric and policies.

Bevin announced his campaign Saturday in a speech to the Republican Party of Kentucky's annual Lincoln Day Dinner in Lexington with characteristic bravado, saying simply: "You bet I'm running again."

"The reality is there is a lot of work yet to do. And to not continue keeping the foot on the gas would be, frankly, the wrong thing for the state, it would be the wrong thing for all those who had worked so hard, the wrong thing for our existing legislature," Bevin told reporters after his speech.

Bevin replaced a popular two-term Democratic governor in 2015, a victory seen as a precursor to President Donald Trump's surprise win in 2016. Saturday night, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told several hundred Kentucky Republicans in Lexington that she likes Bevin because "he reminds me a lot of President Trump. He's not afraid to buck the system, not afraid to break the status quo."

Bevin has mirrored Trump in his penchant for unscripted speeches and off-the-cuff remarks to reporters and on social media that have gotten him in trouble with some of the state's public workers. He drew the ire of teachers earlier this year when he criticized them for closing schools to protest a bill he signed into law that made changes to the state's pension system, which is among the worst funded public retirement plans in the country.

"I guarantee you somewhere in Kentucky today a child was sexually assaulted that was left at home because there was nobody there to watch them," Bevin said. He later apologized, saying "it is not my intent to hurt anybody in this process, but to help us all move forward together."

His remarks galvanized opposition against him from teachers, something Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear tried to capitalize on earlier this year when he announced his 2019 campaign for governor. Beshear has made teachers and public education a key part of his campaign, including selecting an assistant principal of a Kentucky high school as his running mate.

Saturday, Bevin again dismissed criticism of his pension reforms, saying "we have the worst funded pension system in America and we focus on the fact that people are fighting what is in their own best interest, which is saving the very system that people want."

Several other Democrats are considering challenging Bevin, including House Democratic Leader Rocky Adkins, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, state Rep. Attica Scott and former Auditor Adam Edelen.

"I'd take anyone," Bevin said. "There is not one of them that is even remotely worthy of carrying the torch for the people of Kentucky. That's a fact."

Bevin would not say if Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton would be his running mate in 2019. Saying all other campaign announcements would come later, he later praised Hampton as the state's first African-American elected to statewide office and noted the "incredible things she is doing in this state."