Beshear Bests Rising GOP Star in Low-Turnout Ky. Gubernatorial Race as Some Cry Foul

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(Steve Bittenbender, The Center Square) Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear won a second four-year term Tuesday as voters chose the Democrat over Attorney General Daniel Cameron, his Republican challenger.

Cameron, who is black, became one of several rising stars in the GOP who spoke during the 2020 Republican National Convention highlighting the party’s growing diversity and appeal amongst black and Hispanic voters in particular.

Recent polls have continued to show GOP frontrunner Donald Trump gaining ground with minority demographics. However, Cameron failed to muster enough interest to unseat the incumbent Democrat governor in a low-turnout off-year race, which saw only about 30% of Kentuckians head to the polls.

While Republicans elsewhere were ensnared by Democrat rhetoric over abortion, the party’s biggest takeaway in Kentucky appeared to be the need for a greater emphasis on early voting—something that has been a point of considerable controversy due to the potential that absentee ballots create for fraud and other abuse.

Nonetheless, it was in votes cast prior to election day where Beshear was able to pad his own margin of victory, despite a greater turnout Tuesday for Cameron.

In circumstances that disconcertingly echoed other recent elections—including the chaotic 2020 presidential election in several swing states and Arizona’s Maricopa County election for governor in 2022, some alleged that a gas leak had suspiciously extended voting hours in a Democrat heavy district.

Others pointed to what appeared to be additional inconsistencies in the final tally.

Overall, Beshear held 54% of the vote, according to the Kentucky Secretary of State’s website when the Associated Press called the race at 8:57 p.m. Eastern time Tuesday. That was with 96 of the 120 counties fully reporting.

With few races up for grabs in this year’s cycle, Kentucky’s gubernatorial election drew significant national interest. Millions of dollars were thrown into the race by both campaigns and political action committees supporting the candidates.

Tuesday’s election was expected to be a close race, with recent polls showing the race tied or with the incumbent holding a narrow lead.

Yet, Beshear, who won his first term in 2019 by slightly more than 5,000 votes, was on track to outperform that result. Early vote totals showed Beshear improving in several counties where he barely won four years ago.

Once again, Beshear, who turns 46 later this month, will be the state’s top executive, while Republicans hold supermajorities in both General Assembly chambers and can easily override any of his vetoes.

However, despite that, Beshear remained a highly popular governor. Over the summer, a Morning Consult poll showed he had a 64% approval rating. That ranked fourth among all governors and the top among Democratic leaders.

After taking office in December 2019, Beshear was thrust into the public spotlight just months later as the COVID-19 outbreak hit the country. Since then, the state has withstood two of the worst weather tragedies in its history.

While many Kentuckians approved of his policies during the pandemic and other emergencies, he angered many social conservatives by trying to close down churches during the early days of the crisis. Some touted the governor dispatching state police troopers to churches during Easter services to write down license plate numbers as an over-the-line step.

He also butted heads frequently with Republican lawmakers who questioned whether Beshear had the power to implement all of his orders. The General Assembly ultimately passed new laws curbing that authority, and those laws withstood a challenge by the governor in a landmark Kentucky Supreme Court case.

Beshear, though, campaigned as a centrist for the most part in this year’s election. He decried Republican stances on Medicaid, education spending and abortion. On the latter issue, Beshear hit Cameron by saying the attorney general wanted no exceptions for women, including those who became pregnant through rape or incest.

The governor also touted his work across the aisle on several major initiatives—including passage of bills to legalize medical marijuana and sports betting.

Cameron, who had strong backing from former President Donald Trump, will be out of office come January. Still, he turns 38-years-old Nov. 22, so he remains a rising star in Republican politics.

It’s expected he will seek another major office, perhaps running as U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell’s replacement, should the Senate minority leader and Cameron mentor opt against running again in 2026.

Earlier in the night, AP called the secretary of state race for incumbent Republican Michael Adams and the auditor’s race for Allison Ball, the two-term Republican state treasurer who won her third state race since 2015.

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