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The race America should be watching

According to one analyst, the KY governor’s race could be “a harbinger of America’s future.”

5 min read

The London-based Independent says the Kentucky governor’s race is “the one election you’re not watching – but should be” because it’s a “harbinger of America's future.”

The online newspaper emanates from Britain’s capital, not from the Laurel County seat.

If Gov. Andy Beshear, a moderate Democrat, notches a second term next week, “his victory will provide a roadmap for President Joe Biden going into 2024,” wrote Kentucky native Skylar Baker-Jordan in the Independent's Voices section. 

“It will show the path to victory lies not in fighting every battle in the Republican culture war the GOP candidate – be it Trump or someone else – tries to goad him into fighting. Rather, victory lies in competence and compassion. These are two things both the Governor and the President excel at. They are things Cameron and, frankly, every Republican running for their party’s nomination, fail miserably at. And they are the two things voters very well may care about the most.”

But if MAGA Republican Attorney Gen. Daniel Cameron beats Beshear, “it will be a clear indicator that Biden is far more vulnerable than we may think,” according to Baker-Jordan, a Democrat. “It might also show that Trumpian cultural clashes can still draw out voters the way ‘Build The Wall’ and ‘Muslim bans’ did in 2016. That is, after all, the type of politics Cameron seems to be running on. If it succeeds, this race will galvanize the GOP into even more extreme cultural positions.”

Cameron is an unabashed culture warrior. For 60-odd years, Republican candidates like him have been winning in mostly white, conservative, and rural Bible Belt states like Kentucky. They’ve persuaded millions of voters to cast ballots mainly based on cultural issues, AKA social issues.

A veteran Kentucky union leader called the original cultural/social issues the “The Three G’s – God, guns, and gays.” Since then the Republicans have tacked on an “A” for “abortion” and a “W” for “woke.” The latter is thinly veiled racism, the stock-in-trade of the nearly all-white Trumpian GOP of Daniel Cameron, who is Black. (If he wins, he’ll become the first Black governor in Kentucky history.)

The current governor was a teenager in 1992 when James Carville, Bill Clinton’s legendary political advisor, famously declared, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Clinton, who promised to boost a sagging economy, won and got elected to a second term in 1996. He was the last Democratic presidential candidate to carry Kentucky.

Beshear is largely focusing on a brisk economy. “Under Gov. Beshear’s leadership, Kentucky is seeing record-breaking economic momentum,” says the official website of the governor’s office. (On the campaign trail, he also touts his role as a crisis manager during the COVID pandemic and in the aftermath of deadly and destructive tornadoes in western Kentucky and flooding in eastern Kentucky.)

With the Trump-endorsed Cameron, it’s been all-MAGA all the time. In his fall campaign-opening stump speech at the Fancy Farm political picnic, he claimed that Beshear appeases “woke radicals” and cozies “with anti-Christian hate groups.” (Beshear and First Lady Britainy Beshear are deacons at Beargrass Christian Church in Louisville.)

In his speech, Beshear mostly stuck to kinder, gentler jabs. While he highlighted  his leadership in helming Kentucky through the pandemic and the two natural disasters, he pointed to a booming economy and to “our lowest annual unemployment rate in history.”

Both candidates have essentially stuck to their Fancy Farm scripts.

“An acolyte of Donald Trump and MAGA true believer, Cameron has made opposition to Beshear’s pandemic-era policies and Trumpian culture wars central to his campaign – and thus made this race less uniquely Kentuckian and more a harbinger of America’s future,” wrote Baker-Jordan.

She noted that the AG “sued the governor over his use of executive orders to — among other things — close schools, churches, and businesses to protect people from the virus,” adding that “the General Assembly legislated to curb Beshear’s emergency powers, and Cameron defended the law in court – defeating Beshear.”

Baker-Jordan suggested that Cameron’s strident opposition to the governor’s executive orders might fire up his MAGA base. But she wondered how "it will fare among other Kentucky voters?”

She recalled that “at one point, Beshear’s response [to the COVID pandemic] was the most highly approved of any governor in the nation, and he has been met with widespread support. Indeed, Beshear remains one of the most popular governors in the country.”

Four years ago, Beshear beat – if barely – hard-right, John Birch Society-hugging GOP Gov. Matt Bevin, whose petulant personality figured heavily into his defeat. Even some Republicans concede that Beshear comes off as a nice guy.

“Though I was overjoyed to see the back of a scandal-ridden, bigoted administration in my home state, those Democrats did not understand Kentucky politics or history – both of which were on Beshear’s side,” wrote Baker-Jordan, a Democrat.

In 2007, the unpopular Ernie Fletcher, another conservative and the last Republican governor before Bevin, also came up short in his bid for reelection. Beset by scandal, too, he lost to Steve Beshear, Andy’s father, who won two terms. 

She conceded that while recent polls commissioned by both campaigns suggested “a narrow race (with each campaign’s poll showing their candidate winning, naturally), an Emerson College poll from the beginning of October showed Beshear leading Cameron by sixteen points.”

But Baker-Jordan concluded that the polls that show Beshear ahead “bode well for Democrats, indicating that even voters in the ruby red Bluegrass State are tiring of Trumpian nonsense.”

The social/cultural issues are “popular with his conservative base, but repel more moderate voters.” Cameron is known for  his “hardline stance in support of the state’s abortion ban, which only provides exceptions for the life of the mother,” she added. (Beshear has said abortion “ultimately should be a rare but legal procedure.”)

Baker-Jordan pointed out that last November, Kentucky voters turned thumbs-down on a constitutional amendment that said the state charter did not protect the right to an abortion. “Cameron signaled he would sign a bill into law granting exceptions in the cases of rape and incest. Buried in his announcement is a clever rhetorical out. Cameron knows that such a bill is unlikely to ever reach his desk, making his promise a very empty one.

“Of course, empty promises are to be expected with Daniel Cameron. Following the killing of Breonna Taylor by police who burst into her home on a no-knock warrant, he promised ‘a thorough and fair investigation.’’The cops were never charged in her death, though, and many believe that Cameron fixed it so they never would be.”

Meanwhile, one could argue — convincingly — that Cameron is on the right track to victory. After all, Republicans rule the rural political roost from Jordan to Jenkins and enjoy supermajorities in the state Senate and House.

Almost certainly, nearly every Republican officeholder or rank-and-filer is a Trump loyalist.

Because Cameron has trailed Beshear in every recent poll, albeit by varying margins, one might also argue — persuasively — that “the economy, stupid” may trump the “Three G’s plus A and W” in the governor’s race.


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Berry Craig

Berry Craig is a professor emeritus of history at West KY Community College, and an author of seven books and co-author of two more. (Read the rest on the Contributors page.)

Arlington, KY



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