Beshear hopes abortion debate will help him win another term as governor in GOP-leaning Kentucky


LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear is hoping that his support of abortion rights will persuade voters in this Republican-leaning state to look past their skepticism of the national Democratic Party and give him another term in office in Tuesday’s election.

While much of Beshear’s first term was dominated by his response to a series of natural disasters and the pandemic, his reelection campaign was often focused on dire warnings about the future of abortion rights. He portrayed his Republican challenger, Daniel Cameron, as too extreme on the issue, pointing to his support for the state’s abortion ban, which lacks exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest.

The contest pits two former law firm colleagues against each other in one of this year’s most high-profile elections. The Kentucky results will be closely watched for clues about whether voters remain energized by concerns about the future of abortion access in the U.S. Voters in other Republican-leaning states from Kansas to Ohio have already rebuffed other GOP-backed efforts to erode abortion rights. A Beshear win would signal to President Joe Biden and other Democrats that they should continue to focus on the issue in 2024, when control of Congress and the White House are at stake.

Cameron, who would be the nation’s first Black Republican to be elected governor, reaffirmed his support for the current Kentucky law, which bans all abortions except when carried out to save a pregnant woman’s life or to prevent a disabling injury. He later signaled he’d sign a bill adding rape and incest exceptions, but at another point, when confronted by someone claiming to seek reassurance about his position, indicated he’d support such exceptions “if the courts made us change that law.”

Meanwhile, Cameron tried tapping into discontent with the post-pandemic inflationary surge pinching household budgets while linking Beshear to Biden — who lost Kentucky in a rout while winning nationally to unseat Republican Donald Trump in the 2020 election.

“You’ve heard the governor … tell you how well the economy is doing, but chances are you don’t feel that way because inflation is rocking your wallet,” Cameron said during their final debate.

Beshear played up his stewardship of the state’s economy, pointing to record high economic development and historically low unemployment during his term, while promising the state is poised for more growth. And he pushed back against his challenger’s efforts to turn the election into a referendum on Biden, at one point dismissing party affiliation as a box to be checked off.

“This attorney general knows that if this race is about me versus him, that you know who I am and how I’ve led and how I’ve shown up every day,” Beshear said during another of their debates.

In a message tailored to the state’s legions of conservative voters, Cameron criticized Beshear’s veto of a sweeping bill that banned gender-affirming care for young transgender people. The veto was overridden by the state’s GOP-dominated legislature. Beshear said the bill “rips away” the freedom of parents to make medical decisions for their children, adding that “all children are children of God.”

Beshear presided during a turbulent period marked by the global COVID-19 pandemic and devastating natural disasters. Deadly tornadoes tore through parts of western Kentucky in late 2021, followed by massive flooding the next summer in portions of Appalachia in the east. Beshear assumed the role of chief consoler while leading recovery efforts. Whether the goodwill he cultivated in those stricken areas carries over to the election will be determined Tuesday.

Cameron zeroed in on Beshear’s response to the pandemic, accusing the governor of overreaching his authority with restrictions on businesses and public gatherings. Cameron said Beshear’s pandemic shutdowns crippled businesses and caused learning loss among students.

The campaign pitted bitter rivals competing to burnish reputations as rising stars in their parties.

Beshear is seeking to continue his family’s political winning streak in his bid for a second term in a state that has trended heavily toward Republicans. Beshear’s father, Steve Beshear, is a well-regarded former two-term governor. Andy Beshear was narrowly elected as attorney general in 2015 and as governor in 2019, when he ousted Republican incumbent Matt Bevin.

Cameron is a protege of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, having served as the senator’s legal counsel before launching his political career. In 2019, Cameron became the first Black candidate to be elected as Kentucky’s attorney general. Now he’s trying to replicate that groundbreaking achievement by seeking to become the first Black Kentucky governor.

In the acrimony of the campaign, both candidates were asked at one point to say something nice about the other. Both recalled working together as law firm colleagues.

“I was the lawyer that gave him his very first private-sector legal assignment,” Beshear said. “And it was good. It helped the case.”

Cameron said he always appreciated that.

The closely watched governor’s race topped a series of elections for statewide offices Tuesday.

Kentuckians also will decide races for attorney general, secretary of state, auditor, treasurer and agriculture commissioner. Republicans hold every statewide elected office except for governor and lieutenant governor, which are elected on a combined ticket. The GOP holds both U.S. Senate seats, five of six congressional seats and supermajorities in both state legislative chambers.

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