KENTUCKY (FOX 56/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.
Beshear, on the last day of the campaign trail, said that although he ran proudly as a Democrat, “The moment I won that last election, I took that hat off, and I served every single Kentucky family in every single county.”
He will continue to serve the Bluegrass since his victory over then-Gov. Matt Bevin (R) in 2019.
As the race was called by the AP, Beshear had come out on top with 53.3% of votes, with 81% of the vote in.
Beshear, 45, 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 Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron, 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.
Beshear withstood relentless attempts to connect him to Democratic President Joe Biden’s handling of the economy amid a post-pandemic surge in inflation. Beshear insulated himself from the attacks by focusing on state issues. 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.
Cameron, in his concession speech, quipped: “Well, that didn’t turn out exactly how I wanted it to.” He said he called Beshear to congratulate his former law firm colleague on his hard-fought victory.
“We all want the same thing for our future generations,” Cameron told his supporters. “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’s victory sustains a family dynasty that has repeatedly defied the Bluegrass State’s tilt toward the GOP. His father, Steve Beshear, is a popular former two-term governor. By the end of Andy Beshear’s second four-year term, a Beshear will have presided in the Kentucky governor’s office for 16 of the last 20 years.
Beshear’s win, however, 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.
The win, which took place in increasingly difficult political terrain, could position the younger Beshear to join a growing list of Democratic governors flagged as potential contenders for higher office nationally.
Cameron, a rising GOP star, made political history in 2019 as Kentucky’s first Black attorney general but was unable to clear the last hurdle to become the state’s first Black governor.
Cameron tried nationalizing the campaign by linking Beshear to Democratic President Joe Biden 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 state issues and emphasizing his leadership during a tumultuous first term.
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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 height of the pandemic. From those briefings, Beshear became known to many Kentuckians as much by his first name as his last. His updates were part reassuring pep talk and part sermon on how to contain the virus.
Throughout the campaign, Beshear offered an upbeat assessment of the state, while Cameron pounded away at the governor’s record and consistently 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.
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.
Meanwhile, Cameron said Beshear took credit for accomplishments stemming from Republican legislative policies. He 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.
Hot-button transgender and abortion issues dominated much of the campaign.
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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.”
Democrats put Cameron on the defensive on the abortion issue.
They played up Cameron’s support for the state’s existing near-total abortion ban, which offers no exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest. Beshear denounced it as extremist, and his campaign ran a viral TV ad featuring a young woman, now in her early 20s, who revealed she was raped by her stepfather when she was 12 years old. She became pregnant as a seventh grader 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.”
For a detailed look at the races, FOX 56 has a full breakdown of election results here.