Perhaps the most telling TV commercial of this year’s campaigns comes from Secretary of State Michael Adams, the only Republican running for re-election.
The 30-second ad begins by showing the top of the ballot, where the slates for governor and lieutenant governor are unmarked. It then goes to the second race, marking Adams as the choice over former state Rep. Buddy Wheatley.
A still photo of Adams appears, and a female narrator says, “Michael Adams put partisanship aside and brought us more days to vote.” That’s a message that in most states would be coming from a Democrat. Then Kentucky’s chief Democrat, Gov. Andy Beshear, appears for five seconds, calling Adams “a good, bipartisan partner.” An alternate version has a photo of Adams and Beshear shaking hands. Both say Adams “made it harder to cheat.”
The images are from 2020, when Beshear used his pandemic emergency powers to strike a deal with Adams to delay the primary election and hold it mainly by mail, then make a general-election agreement for no-excuse absentee voting and three weeks of early voting, a new thing for Kentucky. In 2021 the Republican-run legislature limited early voting to three days, but made other reforms, and as The New York Times headline in Adams’ ad says, Kentucky was “the only red state to expand voting rights” in 2021.
A Republican ad with the Democratic incumbent and the Times nameplate made tongues wag. Some observers saw it as Adams’ clear declaration of independence from the election-denying elements of his party, staking out his place as a moderate Republican; others wondered if he was going all out for Democratic votes to be the top vote-getter among all candidates in the election.
“I want to get as many votes as I can; that’s the job of any candidate,” Adams told me. He said the ads are running only in Louisville and Lexington, markets where Beshear leads Attorney General Daniel Cameron.
Other Republican candidates may be vying for the title of top vote-getter, which could be more valuable than usual if Cameron and his running mate, state Sen. Robby Mills, are the only Republicans who lose statewide Tuesday. That seemed likelier than not as this was written a week before the election. Such an outcome would re-deal Kentucky’s GOP cards for elections in 2024, 2026 and 2027.
“There’s gonna be a lot of transition in Kentucky the next five years in terms of openings for various offices,” Adams said.
The third race on the ballot, for attorney general, pits former U.S. Attorney Russell Coleman against Democratic state Rep. Pam Stevenson. This didn’t look like a contest until Stevenson’s campaign and a pro-Stevenson group got $142,000 from London Mayor Ronald Weddle, soon after he got $202,000 in refunds from Beshear’s campaign and the state Democratic Party because the contributions reported as coming from others were actually made through a credit card belonging to Weddle and his wife. All this was reported by Tom Loftus in the Kentucky Lantern. Stevenson and Coleman are now battling with TV ads.
Coleman and other Republican nominees joined Cameron’s bus tour Monday, while Beshear was joined by every other Democratic candidate, Lexington’s WKYT-TV reported. “I think you’re going to see really competitive down-ticket races,” Beshear said in Richmond. “It’s pretty exciting to see how hard they are working. In the end, though, each of these individuals has to get out and make their own case.”
In 2019, the top vote-getter was state Treasurer Allison Ball, who is running for state auditor against Democratic newcomer Kim Reeder. Another contender for this year’s vote-getting champion is former state House Majority Floor Leader Jonathan Shell, whose opponent is Democrat Sierra Enlow. Both of those Republicans have TV campaigns; Shell’s is more memorable, but just plain silly, saying he will “stop Biden and save Kentucky,” and he is shunning news-media interviews and wouldn’t even appear with Enlow on KET.
Mark Metcalf, the Republican nominee for treasurer, also spouts partisan irrelevancies, but at least he appeared with Democratic nominee Michael Bowman on the network.
In the governor’s race, Beshear continues to benefit from the power of incumbency, which has given him much more money for advertising on TV and direct mail, and it looks increasingly unlikely that former president Donald Trump, who endorsed Cameron in the primary, will make a personal appearance for Cameron.
But the Cameron campaign appears to have found a way to wake up Trump supporters without motivating anti-Trump voters: a video instead of a visit. On Tuesday, Trump supporters got a video of the repeatedly-indicted politicians endorsing the state’s chief law-enforcement officer, and a poll released Friday morning showed the race as a dead heat.
I’ll be on KET election night to talk about these races and their personalities with host Renee Shaw, Democrats Bob Babbage and Matt Jones, and Republicans Trey Grayson and Scott Jennings. We’ll have plenty to talk about!