Published 8:57 pm Tuesday, November 7, 2023
It was an earlier than expected election night.
At around 9 p.m. Tuesday, the governor’s race was called for Democratic incumbent Andy Beshear.
Beshear easily clinched a re-election victory with large margins in Louisville and Lexington, by retaining typically Republican-leaning counties he flipped in the 2019 election against then-Gov. Matt Bevin and flipping nine more counties.
These counties include Kenton and Campbell counties in Northern Kentucky, Warren County and a broad swatch of Eastern Kentucky counties, including Knott, Breathitt, Magoffin, Wolfe and Boyd.
He flipped Daviess, Letcher, Perry, Powell, Clark, Bourbon, Nelson, Marion and Boyle counties.
With 98% of votes tallied, Beshear earned 52.5% of the vote, while Republican challenger Attorney General Daniel Cameron trailed with 47.5%.
Even in a reliably red state, Beshear’s win was somewhat expected, considering various polls released in the months leading up to the election that had him anywhere between two to 16 points ahead of Cameron.
Dozens of TV crews, armed with cameras and bright lights, lined the back of the Louisville Downtown Marriott suite, where Cameron’s watch party was held.
Several hundred supporters gathered, watching live election commentary on big screens. They let out a whoop as the Associated Press called the race for Republican Secretary of State Michael Adams, who won reelection.
Several streets away, at Old Forester’s Paristown Hall, Beshear’s supporters watched in anticipation as the votes trickled in.
Under blue lights, hundreds of attendees cheered as Beshear took the stage for his victory speech.
“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 said.
“To reject team R or Team D and to state clearly that we are one team Kentucky.”
Beshear continued his nonpartisan message throughout his remarks.
He said the message voters sent was one of vision, not division.
“We get through the hard times and we get through them together, we get to the good times, and we get to them together,” he said. “And wow, are we getting to them.”
Beshear shared some priorities for his next four years as governor, including getting educators a big raise, establishing universal pre-K and continuing to attract new jobs and industries to Kentucky while building a workforce to meet it.
“We have an opportunity now, not for four, but for eight years that will set up decades of prosperity,” he said.
Cameron gave a short, but gracious concession speech after calling Beshear to congratulate him.
He called for Kentuckians to pray for the governor, his team and the Commonwealth.
“I know from his perspective, and from all of our perspectives, that we all want the same thing for our future generations,” Cameron said.
“We want a better Commonwealth, one in which it can ultimately be a shining city on a hill, a model, an example for the rest of the nation to follow.”
How did Beshear win?
Beshear ran on a local platform, focusing on Kentucky issues instead of linking himself to the national Democratic Party’s brand.
While he endorsed President Joe Biden for re-election, he rarely mentioned his political party’s leader.
“Listen, I ran as a proud Democrat, but you saw the moment I won I took that hat off and I served every single family,” Beshear said at one of his final campaign stops before Election Day.
“It’s time we recognize that a good job isn’t Democrat or Republican, a new bridge isn’t red or blue, that clean drinking water is a basic human right or how transformational it’s gonna be when I’m the governor that gets high speed internet access to every home in Kentucky.”
Kentucky has been through several major events in the past four years, including a pandemic, tornadoes in Western Kentucky in 2021 and floods in Eastern Kentucky in 2022.
During the pandemic, many Kentuckians saw Beshear on their living room television screens during his daily Team Kentucky updates. People in the hardest-hit disaster areas say they have seen him walking down the streets.
Beshear often mentions his leadership during these natural disasters, and how despite them, he is more optimistic about Kentucky’s future than ever.
Early this year, he was named the most popular Democratic governor in the nation.
In a late October poll, Beshear garnered 60% job approval.
His campaign speeches often centered around Kentucky’s economic successes during his first term, including record unemployment figures, large budget surpluses and millions in economic development and infrastructure projects across the state.
With his lieutenant governor, public educator Jacqueline Coleman, he also spoke about education as a priority, promising 11% raises for public school employees, universal pre-K and fully-funded student transportation in his education budget proposal.
In the final months of the race, Beshear and the Kentucky Democratic Party started messaging on abortion exceptions, too.
Beshear has said he supports “reasonable restrictions” on abortion. He also supports adding exceptions for rape and incest to Kentucky’s current near-complete ban, whose sole exception is to protect the life of a pregnant person.
During last year’s elections, Kentuckians narrowly defeated a constitutional amendment on the ballot that would have enshrined the current ban in the state constitution.
The Beshear campaign released a high-profile ad in late September featuring Hadley, an Owensboro teen and rape survivor.
She said that anyone who believed in denying exceptions for rape and incest “could never understand what it’s like to stand in my shoes.”
“This is to you Daniel Cameron — to tell a 12-year old girl she must have the baby of her stepfather who raped her is unthinkable,” Hadley said in the ad. “I’m speaking out because women and girls need to have options. Daniel Cameron would give us none.”
Beshear pointed out that Hadley was in the crowd Tuesday night.
Cameron ran on a platform that focused on issues important to the national Republican Party, including the economy and crime.
He attached himself to former President Donald Trump, securing his endorsement early in the primary season and holding an election eve tele-rally with the de-facto GOP leader.
At the same time, Cameron went on the offense, consistently linking Beshear to Biden in campaign speeches, ads and social media posts.
He credited the so-called Beshear-Biden agenda for inflation, anti-coal energy policies and schools as “incubators of liberal and progressive ideas.”
Cameron repeatedly said it was a “race about crazy versus normal,” referring to Beshear’s handling of the pandemic and several high-profile vetoes of legislation involving transgender kids.
The attorney general said he would not have shut down businesses, schools and churches during the pandemic, like Beshear did.
He also called Beshear out for vetoing a 2022 bill that banned transgender women and girls from competing in women’s sports and a 2023 bill that banned gender reassignment surgery for minors, among many other provisions.
Beshear said that he unequivocally does not support gender reassignment surgery for minors, but he vetoed the bill because he objected to some of its other provisions.
Cameron blamed Beshear for pandemic learning loss among Kentucky’s kids, whose math and reading proficiencies have dropped significantly since 2019.