With the Kentucky gubernatorial elections just a few months away, Republican operatives in the state see openings for GOP nominee Attorney General Daniel Cameron to take out Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, whom they view as vulnerable despite his surprisingly strong favorability in a solidly red state.
Beshear narrowly won his seat in 2019 against then-Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, who drew criticism from many Republicans over his leadership.
State Republican operatives are optimistic that, despite Beshear’s formidable polling advantage and relative popularity, Cameron can take advantage of recent obstacles that have beset the governor’s reelection campaign to win in November.
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“I think everything is looking really optimistic for the Cameron campaign,” Shane Noem, chair of the Kenton County GOP and Republican lobbyist, told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “They’ve got a unified, energized base and a unified Republican Party, and I think that is wind in his sails when Gov. Beshear has been in office for three and a half years and has virtually had nobody attack him, the press has given him a free ride. So now that the gloves are coming off and we have a nominee and the party is unified, I think you’re gonna see Gov. Beshear start to be held accountable for his policies.”
Beshear recently lost the backing of a key law enforcement group on Tuesday, and was caught in an apparent falsehood last week over claims he made about whether Kentucky clinics perform transgender surgeries on minors, while a major Kentucky school system experienced a rocky start to the school year last Wednesday that infuriated parents.
“My confidence in Daniel grows everyday,” Scott Jennings, a longtime GOP Kentucky adviser and veteran of numerous campaigns, told the DCNF. “I think Andy Beshear is beatable. I think the issues are lining up for Daniel, I think Daniel’s working very hard.”
However, while Republican operatives believe Cameron’s campaign is in a good position to take on Beshear in November, they acknowledged that beating an incumbent who’s well-liked across the state is no small feat. Beshear is the fifth-most popular governor in the country, touting a 64% approval rating, according to a July 24 Morning Consultant poll.
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Moreover, though polling on the general election matchup between Cameron and Beshear has been sparse since the attorney general became the GOP nominee, most polls indicate Beshear leading Cameron from as little as 2 points to as many as 10 points, according to FiveThirtyEight’s survey compilation. However, several of these surveys were either internal polls or sponsored by a political party.
Despite these stiff headwinds, state Republican operatives believe Cameron has notched several victories in recent weeks, and can take advantage of the Beshear campaign’s missteps to boost his momentum.
The attorney general secured the endorsement of the state’s largest law enforcement organization, The Kentucky State Fraternal Order of Police. The organization previously backed Beshear in 2019, but opted to back Cameron this cycle after receiving responses to a questionnaire from both candidates.
“When your law enforcement community turns on you, that’s a bad sign for your campaign going into the fall,” said Noem.
Cameron has made bolstering law enforcement and reducing crime a key platform to his campaign, frequently slamming the governor for policies he believes enable criminals and a perceived failure to address the fentanyl crisis in Kentucky’s larger cities. The attorney general has also held parental rights in education at the forefront of his gubernatorial bid, while taking a sharp stance against sex change procedures for children and taking aim at Beshear for supporting gender ideology.
“Andy Beshear has abdicated his ability to lead this state,” Cameron told the DCNF in a statement. “He lies about the economy, crime, and transgender surgeries. As Governor, you have to be honest with the people you lead. He acts one way on television and another way in the state capitol.”
Beshear recently attracted criticism on the front of child sex changes; despite vetoing legislation in late March that would ban gender reassignment surgeries for minors, Beshear’s campaign released a digital advertisement in late July where he claims he’s “never supported gender reassignment surgery for minors.”
The governor also said that Kentucky doesn’t perform the procedures, but a clinic in the state refuted Beshear’s assertion earlier this month and admitted to performing some sex change surgeries on those under 18.
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“This guy’s never been hit, he’s kind of got a glass jaw, he doesn’t like it when he gets questioned, and so I think Cameron certainly has the ammunition necessary to close whatever gap there is, and win this thing,” Tres Watson, a Republican political consultant in the state, told the DCNF.
Cameron released his education policy plan to combat learning loss on Tuesday, where he took aim at the detrimental effects of prolonged school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic imposed by Beshear. GOP operatives argued the timeliness of Cameron’s policy rollout will bode well for his campaign, after a school system in Louisville was shut down days earlier, prompting outrage from parents.
When Kentucky students returned to class last Wednesday, the Jefferson County School System, which Jennings and Watson argue is entirely run by Beshear-allies, suffered a bussing crisis that resulted in classes being cancelled for a week and a half. The school system began implementing new technology to assist them with bus routes on the first day of classes, but some students didn’t get picked up for school and others returned home hours late, according to The Associated Press.
With the endorsement of former President Donald Trump, Cameron overwhelmingly won the Republican primary by 26 points in mid-May, beating Commissioner of Agriculture Ryan Quarles, former Trump administration official U.N. Ambassador Kelly Craft and several other GOP hopefuls.
Cameron raked in a total of $1.5 million for the primary, but fundraising reports have yet to be released for the general election, according to Kentucky’s Registry of Election Finance. The Kentucky operatives said Cameron has been constantly campaigning and fundraising across the state this summer, with Jennings telling the DCNF he’s “running circles around Beshear.”
“We are confident in our ability to win this campaign, and we’re gaining momentum,” Cameron told the DCNF in a statement. “We are running a campaign focused on the issues that matter to Kentuckians and I’m excited to give this state a new era of leadership that reflects their values.”
The state operatives also see an opening this fall for Cameron because they view the attorney general as a better candidate with more conservative bonafides than Bevin, whom Beshear defeated by a slim 5,000 vote margin in 2019.
Many Republican voters who diverted from Bevin in 2019 will likely return to the GOP in November now that they have witnessed Beshear’s administration, Jennings said. There also won’t be a Libertarian candidate on the ballot, which Jennings noted secured nearly 30,000 votes last cycle.
“I think Beshear is really trying to thread a pretty thin needle,” said Jennings. “I think Daniel’s ceiling truthfully is a lot higher than Beshear’s, just because the number of people in Kentucky who want to or have voted Republican lately is higher than the number of people who have or want to vote Democrat.”
The GOP is leading the Democrats in party registration this year, which Noem pointed out as another advantage Bevin did not have in 2019.
The most recent survey conducted by liberal firm Public Policy Polling and sponsored by Beshear suggests the governor is beating Cameron 49% to 41%. Another survey from conservative firm Public Opinion Strategies and sponsored by the Republican State Leadership Committee indicates Cameron is down by just 4 points, which Watson views as being the most accurate representation of the race currently.
“Cameron’s gotta make sure the base gets out the votes, and then he’s got to just convince the kind of soft middle that’s available to him that, ‘hey, it doesn’t matter if you like him or not, we need a different governor,’” said Watson.
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