A candidate’s first TV commercial is usually a preview of the coming campaign.
In his inaugural ad, Republican Attorney Gen. Daniel Cameron all but accused Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear of persecuting Christians.
Cameron is the apparent frontrunner in the May 16 GOP primary that drew a dozen hopefuls. Cameron is among three, maybe four, real contenders. But instead of cutting loose on any of his rivals, he bashed Beshear for his 2020 executive order temporarily banning in-person church services to help slow the spread of COVID-19, the deadliest disease outbreak in a century.
Designed to score points with conservative evangelicals — a big chunk of the GOP base — Cameron’s commercial implies that the governor singled out churchgoers. He didn’t.
Beshear prohibited “all mass gatherings” including “any event or convening that brings together groups of individuals, including, but not limited to, community, civic, public, leisure, faith-based, or sporting events; parades; concerts; festivals; conventions; fundraisers; and similar activities.”
Cameron, no slouch at demagoguery, revved up the pander machine. “The very first freedom in our Constitution is the freedom of religion,” Cameron intoned. (He failed to mention that the First Amendment also guarantees freedom from religion.)
“But Gov. Beshear ignored the constitution and shut churches down,” Cameron charged, while bragging on himself for taking Beshear “to court and [fighting] ... to reopen churches so we could come together for worship.”
The ad probably didn’t surprise the Beshear campaign. (Beshear is expected to cruise over a pair of less-than-also-ran primary foes.) Even so, Washington Post columnist Perry Bacon, a Kentuckian, could sing lead soloist in the “told-you-so” choir.
“But of course, it has become clear that the first responsibility of a Kentucky GOP official, at least in their minds, is to attack whatever Andy Beshear said ... in the most dramatic way possible,” Bacon wrote last July. “And this dynamic could get much worse.”
What’s next from the Cameron camp? A TV spot featuring Beshear as the perverse Roman Emperor Nero hosting a late-night orgy, featuring as illumination helpless Christians he had ordered burned alive?
Bacon feared that the GOP primary would end up “a conservative-off, a race to the right where every aspiring Republican tries to appeal to the party base by showing just how anti-Beshear, anti-expert, anti-taking-COVID-seriously that they are.”
By taking aim at the governor, Cameron obviously figures the nomination is his. He still led the field in an April poll, though the race might be tightening.
A January poll had Beshear topping Cameron by 9 points, and piling up a double-digit lead over other candidates.
Beshear is one of the country’s most popular governors, according to another April poll.
Democratic strategist Daniel Hurt says no matter which Republican ends up challenging Beshear, the Trump-style demagoguery will continue. (Cameron never misses a chance to tout Trump’s endorsement.)
“Republicans say ‘Big Government shut down the churches! The devil is here!,’” said Hurt, who, at age 29, has managed multiple campaigns for the state legislature and served on the Kentucky Democratic Party’s State Central Executive Committee.
“The governor stopped in-person gatherings to save lives,” said Hurt, from Grand Rivers in Livingston County. “He succeeded and the shutdown was temporary. Today, you can go to church, go to synagogue, go to mosque. So if it was ‘government tyranny,’ it didn’t last very long.”
Hurt said Cameron’s ad wasn't just base pandering. He said the AG tapped into public “unwillingness to be inconvenienced even for a good reason like saving lives.”
Hurt, a Methodist, doesn’t think Beshear’s order violated his freedom. But Cameron is counting on a slew of Christians to think otherwise.
In contrast, Hurt cited a Murray pastor. “He told his congregation that they would abide by the governor’s order. He said, ‘We are lucky in 2020 to have technology like Zoom so that we can continue to have services and worship God.'”
Beshear praised Kentucky’s “faith community" for “leading during this time.” He said he “couldn’t be more grateful and ... more proud of our pastors, ministers, rabbis, imams, deacons, and everyone else, for not only recognizing that we need to be worshipping at home, but for all that they offer.”
While many churches switched to teleconferencing and other alternative forms of worship for the duration of Beshear’s order, other churches balked and cheered on Cameron.
“What does it say about your faith when you refuse to use this technology so you can continue to have services?” Hurt asked. “You claim to be devout and passionate but refuse to be inconvenienced."
Hurt scoffs at the notion that Beshear’s order amounted to religious oppression. “Plenty of people across the world have really been persecuted for their religion, whatever it might be.”
He said that throughout history, dictators — religious and secular, right-wing and left-wing — have murdered, tortured, or imprisoned millions of people for their faith.
“Throughout history there are plenty of examples where it was dangerous to practice your faith publicly — it could get you killed — real persecution, not the illusion of persecution which is actually in reality inconvenience as was the case here in Kentucky,” Hurt said. “We in the United States are so lucky not to have experienced anything like the persecution of the Jews in Europe during the 1930s and 1940s or Muslims in China today.
"Beshear temporarily closed churches to help people live so they could worship after the pandemic was over. Besides, a church isn’t just a building. You don’t need a building to worship. A church is anywhere people come together to worship. Thanks to teleconferencing, people could still worship during the pandemic.”
COVID has claimed the lives of more than 18,000 Kentuckians. “It would have been much worse without the governor’s actions,” Hurt said. Other Kentuckians are with Hurt. For examples, click here, here, here, here, and here.
Meanwhile, the governor is getting high marks, and not only for his handling of the COVID pandemic. It seems many Kentuckians — not just Democrats — also admire his leadership in the aftermath of deadly and devastating tornadoes in western Kentucky and floods in eastern Kentucky. There’s also his big budget surplus and his hot hand in helping land a ton of new manufacturing jobs.
Daniel Cameron doesn’t have a record like that. All he has to fall back on is his almost-worn-out Cameron Pandering Machine.™