Democrat Andy Beshear is projected to win another term as Kentucky governor, a major victory for Democrats in an otherwise deeply red state that could have implications for races nationwide next year.
Beshear beat Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who attempted to frame one of the nation’s most closely watched off-year elections as a referendum on President Joe Biden’s deep unpopularity in Kentucky and issues such as crime and the economy that poll well for Republicans nationally.
Beshear’s win proves he remains one of the nation’s most popular governors. Prior to Election Day, Kentucky was one of 24 states with a Democratic chief executive and one of 11 where one party does not control the governor’s mansion and both legislative chambers.
The outcome, however, does not mean that Kentucky is suddenly competitive for Democrats.
Kentucky’s Democratic governor is an anomaly: He leads a state where all partisan statewide offices, as well as both U.S. Senate seats and five of six U.S. House seats, are held by Republicans. Donald Trump won Kentucky by nearly 30 points in 2020.
As a result, experts caution that Beshear’s blueprint for winning might not apply to other Trump-state Democrats. Beshear was aided by his family name ― his father, Steve Beshear, was a popular governor who expanded Medicaid to hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians ― and his response to deadly tornadoes and flooding that ravaged the state in 2021 and 2022. Republicans also have a veto-proof majority in the state legislature, meaning that Republicans, not Beshear, set the legislative agenda.
But Beshear’s win at least gives Democrats hope they can weather Biden’s unpopularity as they look to next year’s U.S. Senate races in Montana, Ohio and West Virginia, where vulnerable Democrats are on the frontlines of defending the party’s slim Senate majority.
Beshear won his first race for governor in 2019 with a focus on statewide issues, like ex-Gov. Matt Bevin’s push to roll back Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act and Bevin’s attacks on teachers. Beshear won that race by just over 5,000 votes, largely due to his strength in northern suburban Kentucky.
Polling had consistently shown Beshear ahead of Cameron. The incumbent governor also outraised Cameron while super PAC money poured in on both sides, flooding the Kentucky airwaves with ads in the race’s final stretch.
Throughout the 2023 election cycle, Beshear and Democrats hammered Cameron on the state’s ultra-restrictive abortion law, which bans the procedure even in cases of rape and incest. Cameron, who is staunchly anti-choice, eventually softened his support for a full ban, saying he would sign a bill that included exceptions for rape and incest.
Cameron, in turn, attacked Beshear for COVID-era school closures and for his “crazy” support of Biden, whom he accused of promoting an extreme agenda on transgender issues, crime and immigration.
Had he won, Cameron would have been Kentucky’s first Black governor, and the first Black Republican governor elected since the Reconstruction era. Republicans see him as a rising star in a party beginning to run and elect more candidates of color. Endorsed by Trump, he was on the former president’s short list of possible U.S. Supreme Court nominees.