The Andy Beshear and Daniel Cameron campaigns ended the way they started.
Gov. Beshear, a moderate Democrat, appealed to inclusiveness and to our better angels. Attorney Gen. Daniel Cameron, the hard-right MAGA Republican who wants Beshear’s job, stuck to divisiveness and pandering to prejudice.
Back with the homefolks
Both candidates wrapped up in their hometowns – Beshear in Louisville, Cameron in Elizabethtown. (He now lives in Louisville.) Both stressed familiar themes.
“Whether you’re a Democrat, Republican, or Independent, there is a place for you in this campaign and in this administration,” Beshear told a Derby City crowd, according to the Kentucky Lantern's McKenna Horsley and Liam Niemeyer. “Our job isn’t to move a state to the right or the left but to move it forward for every single family.”
In his E-town speech, Cameron found time “to hit on several of his campaign’s themes,” rebuking “the ‘far-left’” and bashing Beshear “over various culture war issues, including transgender rights, claiming his Democratic opponent refused ‘to protect women’s sports,’” Horsley and Niemeyer wrote.
Cameron also let Donald Trump take a turn at sliming Beshear, if from afar. Trump, who endorsed Cameron, hooked up with the AG via a conference call in which the former president called Beshear “a ‘Joe Biden stooge’ and claimed the Democratic governor wanted ‘big, strong hulking men to bruise and brutalize Kentucky female athletes on the playing field while stealing all of their trophies for themselves.’”
Cameron spent his whole campaign tying himself to Trump and Beshear to Biden.
“A vote for Daniel Cameron is a vote for Trump, and it’s a vote against Biden, and it’s a vote to save the state of Kentucky and the great Commonwealth of Kentucky from Beshear. Beshear is an absolute disaster," Horsley and Niemeyer quoted Trump on the call.
They added, “When asked about Trump’s tele-rally, Beshear told reporters that Kentucky’s gubernatorial election ‘isn’t about who’s in the White House. It’s about what’s going on in the homes of our Kentucky families.’”
Both campaigns began in earnest at the annual August Fancy Farm political picnic. Famous for stump speaking and pit barbecue, both spicy hot, the festivities are considered the kickoff for fall campaigns in Kentucky.
Cameron came out full MAGA. He charged that Beshear cozied with “woke radicals” and hobnobbed with “anti-Christian hate groups.” (The governor and First Lady Britainy Beshear are deacons at Beargrass Christian Church in Louisville.)
Cameron branded Beshear an enemy of “true Kentucky values.” Translation: Republican and conservative Christian, if not Christian nationalist values.
Cameron repeatedly slammed Beshear’s support for LGBTQ rights, dismissing him as a liberal elitist who “has the audacity to lecture rural Kentuckians on right and wrong when he and Joe Biden can’t even tell the difference between a man and a woman.” Biden and Beshear “mock our faith, our families, and our values, and they try to cancel anyone who disagrees.”
Warming to the whooping and hollering from the MAGA side of the picnic-ground pavilion, Cameron jeered, “the folks of Fancy Farm have one response, governor, try that in a small town,” a reference to the Jason Aldean song that is a not-so-thinly-disguised call for racist vigilantism.
Cameron, too, delighted the MAGA white folks in the crowd by declaring, “We need a governor who will stand up to the woke mob, not cheer them on.” That jab triggering more loud approval from the faithful.
Beshear followed Cameron to the podium and skipped the Cameron-Trump style dissembling, distorting, divisiveness and demagoguery. He stressed his leadership in guiding Kentucky through catastrophic tornado and flood emergencies at opposite ends of the state and touted a booming economy on his watch.
He called out Cameron and the Republicans for “trying to pit us against each other, calling everybody names who disagrees with them, telling you it’s okay to yell at, even hate, your fellow Kentuckians.” The governor said he’s “ready to prove that’s a losing strategy in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.”
Beshear in Paducah
At a Paducah fundraiser Friday night, Beshear similarly asked the crowd to help him “send the rest of the country a message that anger politics is a losing campaign strategy.”
From the start, Cameron focused his campaign on firing up MAGA true believers. Beshear kept reaching out to non-Democrats.
“Yes, I’m running as a proud Democrat, but the moment we win, we take those hats off, and we serve every single Kentuckian,” the governor also promised in his impromptu stump speech, which was frequently interrupted by loud cheering and applause. “It’s a recognition that a good job isn’t Democrat or Republican. A new bridge isn’t red or blue.”
In addition, Beshear pledged, “whether you are a Democrat, Republican, independent or other, there is a place for you on this campaign and in this administration.” He vowed that the Democratic ticket is “not Team Red or Team Blue” but “team Kentucky.”
Beshear reprised some of his Fancy Farm remarks at Paducah, telling his supporters that “the other side” is sowing “fear and anger, even urging Kentuckians to violate our faith and values to break that Golden Rule – trying to get one Kentuckian to hate another.”
The company we keep
It’s often true that we’re known by the company we keep. In the campaign’s waning days, Beshear stumped at the University of Louisville with rapper Josh Harlow, who’s from Louisville.
In his campaign’s waning days, Cameron partnered with Riley Gaines and Sarah Huckabee Sanders. A Kentuckian, Gaines is an anti-trans bigot. Sanders, an all-encompassing neo-Confederate bigot, is the governor of Arkansas and a former Trump press secretary.
Gaines endorsed Cameron for representing “Kentucky values” and understanding “the difference between a man and a woman,” wrote the Louisville Courier-Journal’s Lucas Aulbach. It’s long been an article of faith among more than a few Kentucky “values voters” that “you can’t be a Christian and a Democrat.”
Murray State University historian Brian Clardy, a Beshear supporter, predicted that Cameron’s Fancy Farm speech presaged his fall campaign. “It’s going to get uglier and uglier,” he warned. “He’s going to keep on bringing out those tired old MAGA talking points.”
The professor was spot on. But what of Beshear’s claim about Cameron's anger politics being a losing strategy? This Kentuckian who has lived all his 73 years in close proximity to Fancy Farm fervently hopes the governor is correct.