Pipe dream or possibility? Beshear involved in presidential ticket talks

Published 4:55 pm Friday, July 5, 2024

Amidst the post-debate panic, a handful of names have emerged as potential replacements for presumptive Democratic nominee, President Joe Biden. One is Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear.

Biden and former President Donald Trump faced off in a 90-minute debate on June 27. Biden’s performance concerned many in his party, as he was unable to quell concerns about his age and mental acuity.

While a switch is far from guaranteed, Biden is under pressure by some Democratic operatives to remove himself from the race in the name of defeating Trump.

If Biden drops out, Beshear is one of several Democrats in the conversation for the replacement ticket, either as the president or vice president nominee.

Who might replace Biden?

The most likely Biden replacement is Vice President Kamala Harris. She has a level of name recognition and campaign infrastructure others options don’t.

A recently released memo by senior operatives within Democratic political institutions emphasized that choosing anyone but Harris would cause “chaos” the party can’t afford four months before the election.

A post-debate Reuters/Ipsos poll found that Harris had the best chance against Trump —besides Michelle Obama, who said she is not interested in running — with 42% to Trump’s 43%. Undecided voters, third party voters and non-voters made up the remaining 15%.

Biden polled at 40%, California Gov. Gavin Newsom polled at 39%, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Beshear polled at 36% and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker closed the list at 34%.

Other names in the discussion include Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

What would make Beshear a good president or VP candidate?

Dr. Dewey Clayton, University of Louisville political science professor, wasn’t surprised Beshear is in the conversation.

His national profile has risen since he become governor in 2019, particularly during COVID with daily televised updates. He also appeared on national programs to talk about his efforts during natural disasters like the 2021 tornadoes and 2022 floods in Western and Eastern Kentucky.

At one point, he was the most popular Democratic governor in the country, despite leading a largely Republican state. He recently established a political action committee to try and influence elections in other “purple” states.

“He’s young, he’s energetic, he’s affable,” Clayton said. “He’s got a good demeanor about himself, he’s smart and he has a very unassuming type of personality, but people see him as one who gets things done.”

Beshear promotes a “comforting and unifying message” that could work well on a national scale, said Dr. Steven Voss, University of Kentucky associate political science professor.

However, the national party might not be looking for that.

“On the one hand, party activists know that sort of message can sell well with swing voters,” Voss said. “On the other hand, party activists usually want red meat and they want to see the opposing candidate disemboweled. The hurdle Beshear would face if national political players started considering him seriously is the fear that he would be too nice to take the battle to Trump.”

Like other governors, Beshear isn’t as affiliated with national issues that may be hurting the Democratic Party among voters, like inflation, the war in Gaza and immigration policy, said WKU political science professor Dr. Scott Lasley.

“In a lot of ways, he’s the anti-Biden,” Lasley said. “He’s not an East Coast Democrat. … He’s largely at his peak in a lot of ways; he’s been able to win, come from a Republican state and be able to have some success.”

What obstacles does Beshear face?

Despite his strengths, most agree that now is most likely not Beshear’s time.

While Kentucky politics are tough, national politics are a whole different ballgame, Lasley said.

“I think there’s a lot more obvious choices,” he said.

Clayton agreed, saying that three months isn’t going to be enough time to make Beshear a household name.

“This is a large country,” he said. “That’s a lot of territory to cover for someone who probably doesn’t even have the infrastructure at this point or the money necessarily.”

Beshear is also “untested” on foreign policy, a key part of a president or vice president’s job in the modern political era, Clayton said.

If Harris or Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer end up as the Democratic nominee, Lasley said Beshear could be a good complement as vice president. But the same wouldn’t apply if the non-Biden pick were someone like Buttigieg or Pritzker.

Choosing a vice president is a balancing act, Voss said. As a heartlands, moderate Democrat, Beshear could balance Harris. However, so much depends on inside baseball that’s hard to predict, like the personal dynamics between Beshear and Harris, he added.

The odds Beshear becomes the Democratic nominee is very small, but not impossible, Voss said.

While there are no contemporary examples of contested party conventions, Voss said consensus candidates like Beshear often rose to the top historically.

“Because what often happens going into those conventions is you have a handful of well known politicians with strong personalities who have a bigger base and better name recognition, but they also have more enemies, more people who are willing to dig in their heels and insist that those politicians not receive the nomination,” he said.

Is Beshear considering a run?

Beshear was part of a meeting of Democratic governors in Washington, D.C., this week to discuss concerns over Biden’s debate performance.

He also appeared on CNN. Beshear answered a question about his name emerging as a candidate possibility.

“My name coming up, it’s flattering as a person to hear, but I think it’s more about the good things going on in Kentucky,” Beshear said. “And so while it’s nice to hear your name and things like that, I’m just proud of what we have done as a state. And the president and the vice president have been very helpful in making a lot of that happen.”

Beshear has repeatedly stated that he intends to serve out his full second term, mostly in response to hypotheticals about running for U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell’s seat.

But Voss said the optics of leaving early won’t hurt him if it comes to that.

“If a major career opportunity opens up for Beshear and it forces him to surrender the governorship sooner than expected, only people who already dislike Beshear are going to be complaining about that,” Voss said.

Beshear on the 2028 president ticket?

Even if 2024 isn’t Beshear’s year, this may be a tryout for his political future.

“If Donald Trump wins, then Democrats are going to face four more years in the wilderness,” Voss said. “Four more years of Republican appointees being added to the judiciary, assuming President Trump could get his nominees confirmed. They’re going to be hungry for a return to power and a candidate like Beshear who holds up the promise of broadening the party base would be attractive to Democrats.”

Plus, Beshear may run out of political road in Kentucky, Lasley said.

There’s no obvious place to go next, since a run for Congress in Kentucky as a minority party candidate would be much harder than a minority party governor run, he said.

“Even if you ignore what’s gone on lately, if you start thinking about the next generation of potential folks in the Democratic Party, it would make sense to have him as part of the mix for possible vice presidential candidate, possible cabinet positions,” Lasley said.