Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear reelected to second term in Kentucky, overcoming state’s GOP dominance

Published 12:27 am Wednesday, November 8, 2023

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear won reelection to a second term Tuesday, notching another significant statewide victory in an increasingly red state that could serve as a model for other Democrats on how to thrive politically heading into next year’s defining presidential election.

“Tonight, Kentucky made a choice, a choice not to move to the right or to the left but to move forward for every single family,” Beshear told a raucous crowd of supporters in Louisville.

The governor withstood relentless attempts to connect him to Democratic President Joe Biden, especially his handling of the economy. Beshear insulated himself from the attacks by focusing on state issues, including his push for exceptions to the state’s near-total abortion ban that he said would make it less extreme. His reelection gave pro-choice advocates nationwide yet another victory since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

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While Beshear kept Biden at arms-length during the campaign, he benefited politically from massive infusions of federal pandemic and infrastructure money pumped into Kentucky. Biden spoke with Beshear Tuesday evening to congratulate him on his re-election win.

Beshear said his victory “sends a loud, clear message — a message that candidates should run for something and not against someone. That a candidate should show vision and not sow division. And a clear statement that anger politics should end right here and right now.”

The win also marks the 45-year-old governor as a Democrat to watch, a candidate with the skills to win a decisive victory in difficult political terrain.

Beshear rode his stewardship over record economic growth and his handling of multiple disasters, from tornadoes and floods to the COVID-19 pandemic, to victory over Cameron, the state’s attorney general and a protege of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. In what could be a preview of how Democrats campaign in 2024, Beshear hammered Cameron throughout the campaign for his support of the state’s sweeping abortion ban, which makes no exceptions for victims of rape or incest.

Cameron, who was seeking to become Kentucky’s first Black governor, called Beshear to congratulate his former law firm colleague on his victory.

“We all want the same thing for our future generations,” Cameron said in his concession speech. “We want a better commonwealth, one in which it can ultimately be a shining city on a hill, a model and example for the rest of the nation to follow.”

The outcome gives divided government another stamp of voter approval in Kentucky, as Republicans hold supermajorities in both chambers of the legislature and continue to dominate the state’s congressional delegation, including both U.S. Senate seats. Beshear has wrangled with GOP lawmakers over a series of policy issues during his tenure.

While Beshear and Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman earned new four-year terms as a ticket, their win did nothing to change Kentucky’s identity as a solidly red state or prevent a Republican sweep of all other statewide constitutional offices on Tuesday’s ballot.

Republican Michael Adams won reelection as secretary of state, while GOP nominee Russell Coleman, a former U.S. attorney, claimed the job of attorney general.

Republican Allison Ball, who is finishing her second term as state treasurer, was elected state auditor. The GOP also won contests for state treasurer and state agriculture commissioner to maintain its electoral dominance in Kentucky.

Beshear’s victory sustains a family dynasty that has repeatedly defied the Bluegrass State’s tilt toward the GOP. His father, Steve Beshear, is a former two-term governor. By the end of Andy Beshear’s second term, a Beshear will have presided in the Kentucky governor’s office for 16 of the last 20 years.

Cameron tried nationalizing the campaign in a state where Republican ex-President Donald Trump remains popular. Beshear followed his successful campaign formula from 2019, when he narrowly defeated GOP Gov. Matt Bevin, by sidestepping discussion of Biden or Trump, focusing instead on Kentucky matters and emphasizing his leadership during a tumultuous first term.

In the end, Cameron was unable to overcome the personal popularity of Beshear, who became a living room fixture across Kentucky with his press conferences during the pandemic. From those briefings, Beshear became known to many Kentuckians as much by his first name as his last.

Throughout the campaign, Beshear offered an upbeat assessment of the state, while Cameron pounded away at the governor’s record and linked it to Biden. Beshear touted the state’s record-high economic development growth and record-low unemployment rates during his term, and said he has Kentucky poised to keep thriving.

The governor touted his efforts for a new Ohio River bridge that will connect Kentucky and Ohio without tolls. Beshear was rewarded Tuesday with a strong showing in key suburban Kentucky counties across the river from Cincinnati.

The race nonetheless reflected the widening gap nationally between rural and urban voters, with Beshear running up big margins in Louisville, Lexington and Cameron winning large swaths of rural Kentucky. But the Democratic governor also notched some wins in rural areas, including several Appalachian counties well beyond the suburbs of the state’s biggest cities.

Beshear was thrust into crisis management during the pandemic and when deadly tornadoes tore through parts of western Kentucky — including his father’s hometown — in late 2021, followed by devastating flooding the next summer in sections of the state’s Appalachian region in the east. The governor oversaw recovery efforts that are ongoing, offering frequent updates and traveling to stricken areas repeatedly.

Cameron blasted the governor’s restrictions during the pandemic, saying the shutdowns crippled businesses and caused learning loss among students. Beshear said his actions saved lives, mirrored those in other states and reflected guidance from the Trump administration.

Cameron and his GOP allies tried to capitalize on Beshear’s veto of a measure banning gender-affirming care for children, portraying the governor as an advocate of gender reassignment surgery for minors.

Beshear hit back, claiming his foes misrepresented his position while pointing to his faith and support for parental rights to explain his veto. He said the bill “rips away” parental freedom to make medical decisions for their children.

Beshear, a church deacon, said he believes “all children are children of God.”

In declaring victory, the governor ripped into GOP groups he accused of running ads “full of hate and division.”

“And you know what? We beat ’em all at the same time,” Beshear said.

During the campaign, Beshear denounced Cameron’s support for the state’s existing near-total abortion ban as extremist, and the governor’s campaign ran a viral TV ad featuring a young woman, now in her early 20s, who revealed she was raped, and later became pregnant, by her stepfather when she was 12 years old but eventually miscarried. She took aim at Cameron in the ad, saying: “Anyone who believes there should be no exceptions for rape and incest could never understand what it’s like to stand in my shoes.”

Cameron signaled that he would sign legislation adding the rape and incest exceptions, but days later he resumed a more hardline stance, indicating during a campaign stop that he would support such exceptions “if the courts made us change that law.” It highlighted the complexities of abortion-related politics for Republicans since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade.

Kayla Long cited abortion rights as an important issue for her as she cast her ballot for Beshear in Shelbyville, between Louisville and Frankfort, on Tuesday.

“I think it’s a woman’s right to choose,” she said. “And I don’t think politicians should be involved in that choice at all.”