While the national political scene focuses on the midterm elections on Nov. 8 and what is likely to be an incredibly consuming presidential race in 2024, in Kentucky, a lot of the focus seems to be on 2023 and specifically, the race for the Governor’s Mansion.
Just a few months after taking office in his first term, Gov. Andy Beshear found himself at the helm of the commonwealth and, at the same time, navigating through the COVID-19 pandemic.
And, while Beshear’s strong actions on the matter earned him the adoration of national Democrats and meme-makers, the lockdowns and restrictions have proven less popular here in Kentucky. While some lauded the governor, those seeking to unseat him and to continue the state’s red shift have found much momentum is to be gained by challenging Beshear’s decisions.
Just take a look at the field: Savannah Maddox came into statewide prominence by challenging Beshear’s actions as “tyranny” and sponsored a measure in the 2022 legislative session which would ban governments from requiring employees to disclose whether they have received COVID-19 vaccine shots.
Two candidates who have announced — Attorney General Daniel Cameron and Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles — have sued the governor in the professional capacities over the restrictions. Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and Canada Kelly Craft did praise Beshear’s response, but, then at least as soon as last year (about the time she started being mentioned as a potential candidate for governor) became critical. And both Auditor Mike Harmon and political newcomer Eric Deters have criticized Beshear on his pandemic response.
Make no mistake, COVID is on the ballot. After all, on Nov. 8, COVID may ultimately be the spur for Kentucky’s voters to make a massive shift in the power balance of Kentucky’s state government by giving the legislature more power over the governor’s office than it has ever had.
However, the growing culture wars are also going to be a factor, as the Republicans attempt to tie any Kentucky Democrat to the national party which probably has a favorability rating outside of Lexington and Louisville just to the north of the favorability rating of candy corn, nails on a chalkboard and a back itch you just can’t reach.
Regardless of where you stand on Charles Booker, who is seeking to take Republican Rand Paul’s seat in the U.S. Senate, it has to be acknowledged that, it’s entirely possible that just how liberal Booker is reinforces the overall message that, despite their claims to the opposite, there is no difference between a Kentucky Democrat and a Washington Democrat.
Amy McGrath proves that the Democrats can’t win in Kentucky by being moderate, but I also have my doubts that, outside of Lexington and Louisville, they can chalk up many votes on the pro-choice, anti-gun, tax and spend, increasingly socialist platform the party continues to adopt nationwide.
Another factor will be Donald Trump, who is most likely already waging his third campaign for the Oval Office. This factor cannot be underestimated, but it’s going to be interesting to see how it pans out. In Kentucky, Trump has already endorsed Cameron, who seems to be the candidate of the Republican establishment against which Trump so often speaks. Deters and Maddox more clearly reflect the Trump ethos and sound a lot more like him, but Craft was appointed both to her ambassador positions by Trump. Will Trump change his heavily sought-after endorsement or has he given his final word? It will be interesting to see how it plays out.
Beshear is the presumptive Democratic nominee for governor. What is less presumptive is his possibility of winning a second term.
The Republicans certainly have the initiative at this time, but what a rough primary could do to the eventual Republican nominee remains to be seen.
One thing’s for sure — we’re not going to stop hearing about this governor’s race anytime soon, so stow any fatigue you may have over the political process because Nov. 8 is really just beginning for Kentucky voters.