In front of a raucous crowd at Kentucky’s premier political event on Saturday, the Democratic incumbent governor talked about the state’s high-flying economy while his Republican challenger hammered away on social issues.
Both sides stuck largely to scripts written in the early months of their general election showdown as they campaigned at the Fancy Farm picnic, traditionally seen as the jumping-off point for fall elections in Kentucky. This year, however, both Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear and Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron have been going at it for weeks, pounding away at many of the same notes they struck Saturday.
Beshear declared Saturday that he’s led Kentucky’s economy on a “historic winning streak” worthy of a second term, while Cameron slammed the incumbent on social issues and said he was out of touch with Kentucky values.
Political speaking is as much a tradition at the picnic as the barbecue. The crowd was divided between Republicans and Democrats, and both sides tried to outdo the other with chants. Candidates up and down the statewide ballot got their turns at the podium, but the focus was on the rivals for governor.
With a statewide television audience watching, Beshear and Cameron drew distinct contrasts in the high-stakes encounter with about three months to go before the election. They endured the summer heat and cascades of boos and taunts from partisans backing their rival — a rite of passage for statewide candidates in Kentucky.
The Kentucky governor’s race is one of the nation’s most closely watched contests and could provide clues heading into 2024 campaigns for the White House and Congress.
Beshear touted his stewardship of the state’s economy, pointing to job creation from record-high economic development and record-low unemployment rates. The incumbent Democrat tried to tamp down partisanship in his pitch for a second term in the GOP-trending Bluegrass State.
“When you’re on a historic winning streak, you don’t fire the coach,” the governor said. “You don’t sub out the quarterback. You keep that team on the field.”
Reprising another of his main campaign themes, Cameron tried linking Beshear to President Joe Biden, who was trounced by Donald Trump in Kentucky in 2020 and remains unpopular in the state. Cameron has focused his strategy on social issues — most notably on legislation aimed at transgender people that the governor vetoed — to fire up conservative voters.
“His record is one of failure, and it flies in the face of true Kentucky values,” Cameron said.
Beshear has vowed not to cede so-called family values issues to his Republican opponent, accusing Cameron and his allies of running a strategy based on dividing Kentuckians.
“Let’s remember we’re told not just to talk about our faith, but to actually live it out,” the governor. “I’m reminded of the Golden Rule, which is that we love our neighbor as our self.”
Beshear — who has presided over a series of disasters, from the COVID-19 pandemic to tornadoes and floods — pointed to his efforts to bring aid to stricken regions to rebuild homes and infrastructure.
Cameron took aim at Beshear’s pandemic policies that he said favored corporations over small businesses.
“He closed down Main Street and bent over backwards for Wall Street,” Cameron said.
Beshear has countered that his pandemic restrictions saved lives.
Cameron continued blasting the governor’s decision to allow the early release of some nonviolent inmates during the early stages of the pandemic. Previously, Cameron has said some went on to commit new crimes. Beshear previously noted governors from both parties took the same action to release low-level, nonviolent inmates near the end of their sentences to help ease the spread of the virus in prisons.
While his challenger chipped away on crime and social issues, Beshear was locked in on the economy. He said the state is again headed toward one of its best years for economic development.
“We can turn these three great years of economic development into 30 years of prosperity,” he said.
The governor also touted massive infrastructure projects moving ahead, including a new Ohio River bridge for northern Kentucky and a highway expansion in the state’s Appalachian region.
“People here know there’s no Democrat or Republican bridges. That a good job isn’t red or blue,” Beshear said. “And the most important thing for a governor is getting the job done.”
Meanwhile, the drumbeat of GOP criticism of Beshear on social issues continued. The governor has come under attack from GOP groups for vetoing legislation aimed at transgender people. Cameron noted Beshear vetoed a bill that barred transgender girls and women from participating in school sports matching their gender identity. The state’s Republican-dominated legislature overrode the veto.
“Governor, I know you guys are obsessed with pronouns these days. But come November, yours are going to be: has and been,” Cameron said.