In their first debate this election cycle, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear and Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron accused the other of dividing Kentuckians.
While Beshear and Cameron have attended some events together, the Paducah debate held Thursday marked the first time the candidates for governor shared a stage and were asked questions at the same time. The room held an audience of more than 600 people.
Because the Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce hosted Thursday’s debate, the questions focused on business, the economy and the region of West Kentucky.
Throughout the debate, Cameron likened Beshear to President Joe Biden, who is unpopular with Kentucky voters, and harped on Beshear for voicing support for Biden’s re-election in an editorial board meeting with the Lexington Herald-Leader.
Cameron mentioned Biden and the far-left so frequently in the debate that Beshear quipped: “If you had ‘Joe Biden’ or the ‘far-left’ on your bingo card tonight, congratulations. You just won.”
“I think this is a race about crazy versus normal,” Cameron said in his opening statement. “And I think it’s crazy to have a governor who endorses Joe Biden for president.”
During the debate, Cameron said he agreed with Beshear that Kentucky’s governor should support residents during natural disasters.
“But what I also think is critically important is that you have a governor that is standing for your interests and your values 365 days a year,” Cameron said, before adding that Beshear divides Kentuckians on education, particularly because of Glass.
However, Beshear said in his answers that dividing Kentuckians by political parties was bad for the state.
“Folks, having an overly partisan governor is dangerous and you’re hearing it right now,” Beshear said of Cameron. “If you see the world and everything good happening is because of the General Assembly and everything bad that’s happening is because of the governor, it means you see in team red or team blue and not Team Kentucky. The way we move forward is together.”
Beshear often reiterated the core points of his campaign messaging, which has been to support public education and economic development while navigating Kentucky through rebuilding after natural disasters, such as the 2021 tornadoes. The governor said his campaign has room for Kentuckians of all political parties.
“I don’t remember a clearer race about somebody talking about Kentucky and Kentucky first and someone trying to talk about D.C. that much,” Beshear said. “If this candidate (Cameron) is so worried about D.C., he should have run for U.S. Senate.”
In his answers, Cameron was critical of Beshear and praised the work of fellow Republicans, including members of Kentucky’s national delegation and state lawmakers.
Cameron blamed Beshear for closing public schools during the coronavirus pandemic, vetoing a bill that prevented transgender women and girls from playing on female sports teams at their schools, and the appointment of former Education Commissioner Jason Glass by the Kentucky Board of Education. Glass left after the General Assembly passed a controversial anti-transgender law earlier this year and said he did not want to be part of implementing it in Kentucky schools.
Cameron, a protege of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, pushed Beshear on not publicly committing to naming a Republican to fill a possible Senate vacancy. The General Assembly passed a law in 2021 requiring a governor to select a temporary appointment from the previous member’s political party.
Since McConnell’s first “freeze up” while speaking to reporters this summer led to concerns about the minority leader’s health, the question of how Beshear would replace McConnell has risen.
“The reason we’re having this conversation is people speculating over his health, which I just don’t think is right,” Beshear told reporters after the debate. “I even told his (McConnell’s) state director that I wasn’t going to do this. I wasn’t going to go there because he says he’s healthy. He says he’s going to finish out his term, and I’m going to respect those wishes.”
Before Thursday’s debate, an independent expenditure committee backing Cameron, Bluegrass Freedom Action, said in a press release that it has launched “andylied.com,” bought all available billboards around the Governor’s Mansion in Frankfort and began a text and digital campaign.
The morning of the debate, the Beshear campaign released its third ad attacking Cameron’s position on abortion in Kentucky, called “Record.” It features new video clips from shoots for the previous ads. During the debate, neither candidate touched the subject of abortion.