Director, Commonwealth Policy Center

I wish that I could write you and tell you that we have a new conservative governor in Kentucky. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. It’s not for lack of trying because the CPC team and I worked overtime to help elect Daniel Cameron.

We have much to learn from this election and should not be discouraged for a number of reasons. First of all, Daniel was fighting an uphill battle. He ran against a strong incumbent governor and was outspent by a 4 to 1 margin, Secondly, we need to realize that God can work through disappointments and even through unrighteous leadership. What helped Gov. Beshear get re-elected?

Focus on Positives. Andy Beshear highlighted the positives in Kentucky. He focused on economic growth and development (even if the Republican legislature was responsible for it). He touted good news and showed up regularly for groundbreaking ceremonies. He touted infrastructure development (Brent Spence Bridge in N Ky, Mountain Parkway in E Ky, and I-69 corridor in W Ky). Cameron was at a disadvantage since he didn’t get to take credit for economic growth. Why replace a guy who’s been leading in development, even if in reality he was only a cheerleader?

Negatively Defined Daniel Cameron. Beshear defined Cameron as taking away something from people. He will take away your Medicaid, he will take away funding for public schools, he will take away a “woman’s right to choose.” Cameron did not have enough resources to address all of the attacks and did not have enough time during the debates to respond well to all of these.

Fundraising Advantage.  Beshear’s campaign outraised Cameron, by nearly a 4 to 1 margin ($17.3 million to Cameron’s $3.9 million). Beshear blanketed TV airwaves with positive ads while Republicans were slogging through their primary, much of it ugly and negative. Beshear had enough focussing on GOP voters (I personally received Beshear mailers). While outside PAC’s favoring Cameron made campaign spending even, they mostly ran negative ads. Outside PACs were more effective in the 2020 presidential race but they were not nearly as effective in this latest race for governor. Total spending between both candidates, including PACS was $65 million—a record.  

Democrats Big Urban Advantage. Beshear won lopsided victories in Louisville (70% to 30%) and Lexington (72% to 28%). Down ballot Democratic also won Lexington and Louisville by double digits. Beshear landed victories in Warren, Davis, Kenton and Campbell. Beshear only won 29 of 120 counties, but he won the right counties. Republicans must be more competitive in the bigger cities.

Voters have a short memory. While Andy Beshear violated constitutional protections during Covid shut downs and was consistently overruled by the courts, that issue didn’t move enough votes. The daily tv briefings and conveyance of care and compassion, apparently outweighed any missteps. This appeared to be true with the debacle of sending disaster relief funds to the wrong people. It also appeared to be true when there were problems with unemployment claims due to Covid shutdown. It seems that voters give grace if they perceive good intentions and sincerity.

Unprecedented Opportunities for Beshear. Shortly after taking office, the Covid pandemic hit. This unprecedented crisis gave Beshear access to voters unlike any other governor in our lifetimes. His daily televised briefings were widely viewed. His calming presence came into he homes of Kentuckians for nearly a year and half to comfort and encourage them. This explains the high approval rating among Republicans 65 and older (one-third were favorable to him). Beshear regularly travelled the state and showed up in times of disaster. He was there for the floods in Eastern Kentucky. And he was there for the tornadoes in West Kentucky. Interestingly, he lost three of the counties in west Kentucky that were hit by tornadoes. He won the counties in Eastern Kentucky hit by the floods. He reminded them that he was an advocate for them, and that he was doing all he could to send help as he was able. This positive message again resonated with the voters.

Expectations of a Governor. Kentuckians want to know that their governor cares about them. They want a governor who does not pick fights or demonize people. Beshear reminded voters of this and did the things that governor’s are expected to do.

Minimize Public appearance of Toxic Partisanship. Andy Beshear downplayed partisanship (even though he’s a partisan). According to a Pew forum survey in September, bipartisanship – the ability to work across party lines was a major issue of concern to American voters. Voters are weary of divisive and antagonistic political candidates. Beshear tapped into this sentiment and focused on working across party lines, even if this was only the perception he projected. He successfully resurrected Bevin’s negatives on public schools and healthcare and tagged them on Cameron. Interestingly, Beshear navigated the partisan divide by standing for his convictions rather than demonizing those he fought against. He also acquiesced gracefully when he was being steamrolled. He distanced himself from national Democrats and talked about working with Republicans in his campaign ads. The top Republican vote getter last night was Michael Adams. He ran an ad highlighting bi-partisanship in Louisville. It featured Beshear praising him.

Abortion. Andy Beshear made abortion rights a central issue of his campaign. He ran three abortion ads that were effective. The most compelling highlighted the egregious and repeated sexual assault of a girl when she was only 12. The Hadley ad resonated with voters in big cities. Many viewed abortion as a right in horrible circumstance. (Ohio voters enshrined this right into their state constitution.) This was Act 2 in the abortion rights movement in Kentucky since Roe was overturned last year. The Cameron campaign did not have a response to the heart rending ads. When the heat was turned up, he eventually caved on abortion exceptions. This deflated some in the pro-life movement.

The pro life community has been caught flat-footed since Roe v. Wade was overturned last year. The challenge for the movement is to have a full orbed, careful, compassionate, response to sexual assault of vulnerable women. 

Public education. Andy Beshear defined Cameron as being anti-public education and in favor of funneling money to “elite private schools”. He repeatedly talked about the “Sewer Bill” and linked Bevin to Cameron who had to constantly defend himself on this issue. Beshear cast a vision for helping improve Kentucky’s public schools. He constantly promoted the good work of teachers and proposed compensating them better. He tapped into the idea of serving families better, particularly by expanding public resources for early childhood education.

Trump’s endorsement didn’t move the needle. Kentucky voted for Trump by 62% in 2020. However, that was a national election and he dealt with national issues. Interestingly many Trump voters just weeks ago were in favor of Beshear. How can this be? Is this Trump fatigue? State issues differ from national issues. Beshear’s positives outweighed the negatives. Beshear spoke to the most pressing issues at this time. Bottom line: Beshear’s positives with voters outweighed any Trump endorsement. 

Effective neutralization of social issues. Even though Andy Beshear governed from the far left on issues of gender ideology, critical race theory, abortion, etc, he got a pass from many voters because his convictions land him in a place where he projects compassion to all involved. He quotes scripture and talks about “We’re all God’s children.”