8 November 2023
Kentucky’s pro-choice, pro-union governor defeated the combined might of Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell and the Republican money machine.
Trumpism could define the Republican Party. But it certainly doesn’t define election outcomes – even in allegedly red states.
Just ask Kentucky Republican Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Daniel Cameron.
After winning his party’s gubernatorial nomination in May, Cameron declared, “I just want to say that the Trump culture of winning is alive and well in Kentucky.”
Cameron emerged in politics as a protégé of Kentucky’s most powerful Republican, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. He had the strong support of GOP-aligned billionaire donors and corporate interests in a race that would eventually see five major super PACs spend heavily on his behalf. As the first black candidate for the state’s top office, Cameron was seen by at least some pundits as having the potential to expand the GOP base. And he already proved he could win statewide races in his 2019 campaign for attorney general, with a 58-42 percent victory. So, in a state where Donald Trump defeated Democrat Joe Biden by a 26-point margin in 118 of 120 counties, by most measures, Cameron should have had the upper hand in this year’s gubernatorial race.
So Cameron, who received an early endorsement from Trump, built his entire campaign on a strategy of presenting himself as a candidate for the former president. Television ads in the final weeks of the campaign featured the Republican telling voters, “I am the only candidate endorsed by President Trump and the only candidate who stood up to Joe Biden.”
Kentuckians were not impressed.
Cameron lost on Tuesday to outgoing Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat who ran as a pro-choice, pro-LGBTQI+ rights, pro-public education, pro-labor candidate on issues that closely align with President Biden’s . That doesn’t mean Biden, whose approval ratings are currently dismal in Kentucky and nationally, is poised to win the Bluegrass State, or many other border and Southern states, in 2024. The recent running route for Biden and other Democrats has been one followed for years through the East and West coasts and Great Lakes states. But the Kentucky result means that Democratic candidates and Democratic issues are more viable than our political and media elites imagine.
The election was not even close. Beshear, who won his first term in 2019 by barely 5,000 votes, won by nearly 70,000 votes Tuesday night — a 52.5-47.5 margin.
That result was celebrated not only by Beshear and his supporters in Kentucky but by Biden and national Democrats. They Know Kentucky’s Off-Year Gubernatorial Election Results Are In anticipated Every presidential election result in the 21st century. In cycle after cycle, when Kentucky has voted Republican for governor, a Republican has been elected president the following year – and when Kentucky has voted Democratic for governor, a Democrat has won the presidency the following year. Is. This is encouraging for Biden and the Democrats, as is a sweeping victory for a constitutional amendment enshrining abortion rights in the red state of Ohio, the election of a Democrat in a key Pennsylvania Supreme Court race, and Democratic control of both houses. There was integration of control. of the Virginia State Legislature. So it’s no surprise that the President reacted to the results To declare, “Tonight across the country democracy won and MAGA lost. Voters vote. Not a referendum. Let’s win next year.
Biden was clearly having the best influence on the results. But no spin was needed for Democrats, who are arguing that no matter Biden’s poll numbers, the appeal of many of the party’s core issues remains strong.
Beshear couldn’t win re-election by running the kind of cautious, Republican-lite campaign that Democratic strategists used to advise the party’s candidates on how to carry on in red states. While the mild-mannered 45-year-old son of a former Democratic governor is generally known as a moderate, he campaigned on a platform that was more in line with national Democrats: teacher pay increases, universal pre-K education, a Freedom from the “clean green economy” and “politics of anger” that have dominated the discussion ever since the Republican Party left the mainstream and leaned toward the Tea Party right and Trumpism.
And when it came to so-called “hot-button” issues, this border-state Democrat leaned in.
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Beshear, who vetoed a sweeping abortion ban approved by Kentucky’s Republican-controlled legislature in 2022, has aired pro-choice ads as part of his re-election strategy and called Cameron, a staunch foe of abortion rights, a target on the issue. Effectively portrayed as extremist. , Considering the Kentucky results, “There is no state in the country where voters want politicians to deeply intervene in personal health care decisions,” said Sarah Tabatabai, executive director of the group Vote Pro-Choice. “As long as our rights are at risk, pro-choice values are a organizing force.”
But Beshear did more good than embrace reproductive rights:
- In March this year, the governor vetoed anti-trans legislation that proposed banning gender reassignment surgery for anyone under the age of 18, and prohibiting inpatient and outpatient gender-affirming hospitals. The services were banned – with a message that read “My faith teaches me that all children are God’s children and Senate Bill 150 would put Kentucky’s children in danger.” Katherine Oakley, state legislative director of the Human Rights Campaign, said, “Gov. Beshear listened to the voices of transgender children, their families, and medical experts and decided to treat transgender children with dignity and respect. We strongly urge the Kentucky legislature to Let’s do this by upholding the Governor’s veto and stopping these discriminatory attacks on vulnerable children.
- After members of the United Auto Workers union went on strike in September, Beshear joined a protest outside a Kentucky Ford plant, and he ran in this election as an unabashedly pro-union candidate, winning a pre-election debate. “I am proud to be the governor endorsed by the UAW,” Beshear announced. “Our UAW families are fighting for better wages and better health care benefits – something we need for every one of our citizens. “We need them to be able to come out of this and provide more opportunities and a better future for their children in Kentucky.”
Those are the Democratic messages that led to big wins in Republican states.
Kentucky’s 2023 election results show that the Democratic brand is not in crisis. National polls showing Trump leading in several battleground states confirm that Biden faces challenges, as do sitting presidents seeking a second term in often turbulent times. But Biden’s party—and its issues—emerge from the 2023 off-year election much stronger than even some Democrats had dared to imagine.