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Kentucky Kernel

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Beshear’s blueprint: Governor’s momentous first term fuels re-election campaign

Matthew Mueller
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear speaks on Monday, Oct, 23. 2023, before the fourth gubernatorial debate. Kentucky Lantern photo by Matthew Mueller

Editor’s note: The Kentucky Kernel was unable to meet one-on-one with the candidates. All information is cited from public events attended by Kernel staff and credible online sources.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear is deep into a re-election campaign — the intensity of which mirrors his initial gubernatorial race against former Gov. Matt Bevin nearly four years ago. 

The Democratic governor will face off against Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron in next month’s general election, the two candidates likely feeling the heat as Nov. 7 draws near, advertisement jabs multiply and yard-sign wars rage on. 

In 2019, Beshear beat out the Republican incumbent Bevin by just over 5,000 votes, Associated Press election results showed, in a neck-and-neck race for the governorship. 

Beshear, Kentucky’s then attorney general, began a term that would see the ambitious new governor — and the state — face good, bad and everything in between, including economic growth, job creation, a global pandemic and devastating natural disasters. 

It was only a few months after Beshear took office when COVID-19 would find its way into the U.S. in early 2020, prompting a public health emergency, school and business closures, and stay-at-home orders. Masks, frequent testing and social distancing became the norm, and it was up to the states themselves to encourage or set aside these mandates.

Beshear quickly took the plunge amidst uncertainty, notably recommending that schools cease in-person classes and advising Kentuckians to limit community gatherings. 

Beshear’s school regulations have since been criticized by Cameron in his campaign, with the “The Cameron Catch-Up Plan” being the attorney general’s answer to Beshear’s closures. 

Cameron attributed this to “generational learning loss” across the state, according to his website. 

Even so, Beshear’s swift response to COVID-19 and his daily “Team Kentucky” video updates garnered national attention and bipartisan praise at the time, AP reported in 2020.

“We didn’t do red or blue, Democrat or Republican, but we treated the pandemic as life versus death, while at the same time working with the private sector to keep it humming along,” Beshear said in a 2021 interview with a television station, reflecting on his response to the pandemic. 

Beshear remains a bipartisan anomaly within a deep red state ahead of November’s election, holding not only stronger Democratic support than Cameron’s Republican support “but also 44% of independent voters’ support and 28% of Republican voters’ support,” said Spencer Kimball, executive director of Emerson College Polling, in recent poll results.

The years following the start of the pandemic saw Beshear and Kentucky grapple with two more major crises: a tornado that laid waste to the state’s western regions in Dec. 2021 and historic floods that displaced residents and homes in several eastern counties in July 2022.

The combined death toll from the two natural disasters amounted to over 100 people, The Courier Journal reported. 

Efforts to restore both of these areas are already underway, as the governor recently indicated.

We’re not just rebuilding, we’re revitalizing,” Beshear said at a Paducah Chamber of Commerce candidate forum on Oct. 12. “The 12 months after those tornadoes hit, we created so many jobs in (Mayfield, Kentucky). They made the top 100 in economic development of towns their size.”

A major pillar of both his initial and current campaigns, Beshear’s emphasis on economic growth in Kentucky has led to big strides — Pratt Paper in Henderson, the world’s largest electric vehicle battery plant in Hardin and sports betting, to name a few. 

Economic development, however, is not exactly one of this election’s hot button issues, as voters look to Beshear and Cameron for their stances on abortion and now highly contentious gender-affirming care regulations.

On higher education, Beshear supported the Supreme Court-struck down affirmative action and  assured continued funding for Kentucky’s colleges.

“I was proud to be a governor that proposed increase and, at least for the last decade, record funding for higher education in each and every budget that I’ve been a part of, and you can expect that to continue,” Beshear said at Commerce Lexington’s Public Policy Luncheon on Oct. 11. 

Beshear hasn’t shied away from expressing his distaste for Kentucky’s abortion trigger law, which bans almost all abortions, the exception being those that are carried out to save the mother’s life or prevent serious injury. 

“Kentucky has one of the most restrictive (abortion) laws in the country,” Beshear said in a debate hosted at Northern Kentucky University on Oct. 16. “The trigger ban removes any and all options from victims of rape and incest.” 

Cameron called himself the race’s “pro-life candidate” and Beshear “the abortion candidate” at the debate and once stood firm as anti-abortion, though now, Cameron has clarified that if he was presented an abortion bill with exceptions, he would sign it. 

This followed a particularly hard-hitting advertisement from Beshear in which Owensboro resident Hadley Duvall chastises Cameron’s abortion stance, recounting her experience being raped by her stepfather. 

Anyone who believes there should be no exceptions for rape and incest could never understand what it’s like to stand in my shoes,” Duvall said. 

Beshear made it clear at the NKU debate that he has always believed in “reasonable restrictions” on late-term abortions, though.

At the annual Fancy Farm picnic in August, Beshear continued to reinforce a bipartisan winning strategy ahead of November’s election.

“This race is the difference between vision and division,” Beshear said. “A good job isn’t red or blue, and the most important thing for a governor is getting the job done.”


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