Democrat Andy Beshear defeated his Republican opponent Daniel Cameron to win reelection as Kentucky’s governor, according to the Associated Press, securing a second term in a deep-red state and beating back his opponent’s efforts to tie him to an unpopular President Biden.
Beshear’s victory is a testament to the strong personal brand he’s built in an increasingly Republican state that backed Donald Trump by 26 points in 2020. The son of a former governor, he sought to separate himself from national Democrats and focused heavily on state and local economic issues, defying political trends and heading into Tuesday’s elections as the slight favorite.
The results are also a blow to Trump and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), both of whom endorsed Cameron, the state attorney general and a rising GOP star who tried to nationalize the race and remind voters of their party lines. He and his allies promoted an endorsement from Trump and attacked Beshear as an ally of President Biden who clashed with Republicans on culture war issues.
Biden also spoke with Beshear Tuesday night to congratulate him on the win.
Though Trump and McConnell frequently split their support in Republican races in last year’s midterm elections, both were supportive of Cameron’s bid. Cameron is a close ally and former aide to McConnell, who has mentored him since Cameron was a McConnell scholar at the University of Louisville. Trump endorsed Cameron early in the primary, calling him “a young star” and praising his “meteoric rise.” Cameron in turn touted Trump’s support for his bid, while Beshear separated himself from Biden.
But Beshear managed to maintain the cross-party appeal that’s won him the highest approval rating of any Democratic governor in the country.
The race offers Democrats some clues about what it takes to survive in areas increasingly inhospitable to them - though strategists also caution that Beshear, 45, boasts some advantages that are hard to replicate, not least his family name. Beshear relentlessly plugged economic development projects and attacked Cameron, 37, on issues such as Medicaid access and abortion - a topic the GOP has consistently struggled with since the end of Roe v. Wade paved the way for strict new bans.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, the chair of the Democratic Governors Association, said in a statement that Beshear’s reelection “makes it clear that voters across party lines want strong Democratic leaders who will focus on a positive vision and lifting people up - instead of the division and anger we too often see from the other side.”
The Kentucky governor’s race drew more than $77 million in spending in the general election phase. Democrats spent about $48 million to Republicans’ roughly $30 million, and Cameron’s campaign lagged far behind Beshear’s in fundraising.
Cameron was thrust into the national spotlight in 2020 with the case of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman killed in a botched Louisville police raid. Her death sparked protests that became part of a massive racial justice movement, and Cameron’s office presented evidence to a grand jury that led to no state charges in Taylor’s death; one police officer was charged with recklessly shooting into a neighbor’s apartment.
Beshear first served as attorney general and was elected governor in 2019, narrowly beating a deeply unpopular Republican incumbent, Matt Bevin. Bevin had managed to alienate Republicans and Democrats alike, particularly enraging teachers with changes to the pension system.
Beshear’s subsequent role leading the state through natural disasters and covid-19 won him broad approval. Seeking another term, the governor pitched himself as a moderate focused on nonpartisan issues, often declaring that “a good job isn’t Democrat or Republican” and talking up his plans for high-speed internet, teacher raises and universal pre-K.
He aligned himself closely with labor, joining striking autoworkers last month. “I’d take a bullet for him,” United Auto Workers Local 862 President Todd Dunn said of Beshear recently, speaking inside union offices adorned outside with a massive sign that declared UAW’s support of Beshear. “He’s that important to me. He’s that important to my family, he’s that important to the families of my union”
Beshear has been campaigning with his father, Steve Beshear, who served as governor from 2007 to 2015.
Cameron and his allies assailed Beshear as more liberal than his public image. They criticized his support for school closures during covid-19 and his veto of a bill banning gender-affirming care such as puberty blockers and surgeries for minors - a move the GOP’s supermajority in the Kentucky legislature ultimately overrode.
Cameron also repeatedly invoked Biden on the trail and in negative ads. Anti-Beshear mailers depicted the Democrat kneeling to “King Biden” or acting as Biden’s puppet.
“We know in 2024 we want to remove Joe Biden from the White House,” Cameron said at a recent campaign event. “Ladies and gentlemen, before we do that, we’ve got to remove his biggest enabler here in Kentucky.”
Democrats, meanwhile, linked Cameron to Bevin and appealed to the same constituencies that helped sink Bevin - hitting Cameron, for instance, on evasive answers as to whether he supports school vouchers and arguing that such programs would siphon money from public schools.
Beshear’s campaign also put significant resources into assailing Cameron on abortion, a major point of contention in the candidates’ debates.
A near-total abortion ban snapped into effect in Kentucky after the Supreme Court overturned Roe in 2022, going further than many voters wanted even in a conservative state. Cameron defended that abortion law in court as attorney general, giving Democrats a particular opening to attack him on the matter.
Given conservatives’ dominance in the state legislature, the abortion debate in Kentucky has centered on a relatively narrow question of whether the state should add exceptions in cases of rape and incest. One Beshear ad that went viral featured an emotional appeal from a young woman, Hadley Duvall, who was sexually assaulted by her stepfather.
Cameron said this fall he would sign exceptions for rape and incest if the legislature approved it but has also expressed strong support for the current law.
Kentucky voters last year rejected a ballot measure that would have amended the state constitution to specify that it guarantees no right to abortion - boosting Democrats’ sense that abortion has become a potent and popular issue for them even in red states.