Democratic Gov. Beshear downplays party labels in campaigning for 2nd term in GOP-leaning Kentucky

RICHMOND, Ky. (AP) — Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear downplayed party labels while campaigning Monday for a second term in Republican-leaning Kentucky, touting his role in creating jobs, improving roads and leading recovery from a series of disasters as rising above partisan politics.

Starting the last full week of campaigning before his Nov. 7 showdown against GOP challenger Daniel Cameron, the governor promoted his plans for teacher pay raises and state-supported pre-K for 4-year-olds in Kentucky.

As he addressed a standing room-only crowd at a Richmond brewery, Beshear made his pitch that he is the best candidate for fulfilling basic needs regardless of party affiliation, while praising the state’s resilience after a string of disasters.

“Together, we've been through a pandemic, flooding, tornadoes, two wind storms, two ice storms, the polar plunge and now the hottest summer on record,” Beshear said. “Yet still we are here today moving forward at a speed and in a direction we have never seen before.”

Beshear and Cameron are crisscrossing the Bluegrass State make their closing arguments to voters in one of the country’s most closely watched off-year elections. Starting Thursday, polling places open across Kentucky for three days of early voting.

Cameron, the state's attorney general, has increasingly tried to nationalize the campaign, striving to link Beshear to Democratic President Joe Biden on economic and energy issues in coal-producing Kentucky. Biden was trounced by then-President Donald Trump in Kentucky's 2020 presidential ballot. Cameron says the election offers the chance for "turning the page on the failed Biden-Beshear agenda.”

Beshear responded Monday that the campaign comes down to competing messages of “division vs. vision” while touting his work on core issues he said should be immune from partisan politics.

“You’ve seen the fact that, yes, I run as a proud Democrat, but the moment I’m elected I take that hat off and I serve every single Kentucky family –- all of them,” the governor told the large crowd on a rainy Monday morning. "Because I recognize, like you do, that a good job isn’t Democrat or Republican. A new bridge isn’t red or blue. Clean drinking water is a basic human right.”

Beshear has touted his stewardship of the state’s economy — amid record-setting economic development growth — and his leadership following a series of tragedies during his term, including deadly tornadoes that hit portions of western Kentucky and flooding that inundated parts of Appalachia in the east.

Beshear also has touted progress on three mega-projects for the Bluegrass State — building a new Ohio River bridge connecting Kentucky and Ohio without tolls, widening and extending the Mountain Parkway in eastern Kentucky, and constructing another Ohio River bridge to close a gap in Interstate 69 linking western Kentucky and Indiana.

In urging Kentuckians to stick with him, Beshear said there's a "better chance to build that better Kentucky for our kids and our grandkids. And a chance to leave a collective legacy of more opportunity for the next generation than we ever thought was possible.”

Former two-term Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, the current governor’s father, joined the incumbent Monday, quipping: “I used to be somebody. Now I’m just the father of somebody and I like that even better.” Steve Beshear said his son has effectively dealt with the “four of the toughest years that this state has ever seen.”

During his speech, Andy Beshear mentioned his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic only in passing, but it was foremost in the minds of several present. After the rally, retired music professor Steve Bolster thanked Beshear for his leadership.

“I think he’s had the courage to stand up for important things that have helped us all, like protections during the pandemic,” Bolster said later, crediting the governor's policies for saving lives.

The global health crisis dominated the first half of Beshear's term, and his restrictions on businesses and public gatherings during the worst of the pandemic have drawn repeated attacks from his challenger. Cameron says the restrictions hurt small businesses, many of which haven’t recovered, and that pandemic school closures led to widespread learning loss among students.

"Your kids are behind because of this short-sighted decision,” Cameron said recently, blaming Beshear.

Beshear says he leaned heavily on guidance from Trump’s coronavirus task force in his executive orders. The virus has killed more than 19,000 Kentuckians since early 2020.

At Beshear's rally, another retiree, Janet Quigg, said the governor showed courage during the pandemic, adding: “He kept us alive and informed of everything in COVID. We could not have had a better governor.”

The pandemic gave Beshear an unprecedented platform as governor. His daily televised updates at the height of the crisis were part pep talk to reassure people and part sermon on how to limit the spread of the virus. And he mentioned every pandemic death in Kentucky during his briefings.

Asked Monday about the impact that could have on voting, Beshear said: “I think people got to know me during that period, to truly see who I am. And when you are there every day reading a death list, telling people different tips on how to get through, that you connect with people on a very human level."