Of the 3 states seeing governors races this year, Kentucky will likely see the most vigorous 2-party competition. Four years ago, Kentucky voters ousted an unpopular governor from a popular party. This year, the Bluegrass State will weigh whether to keep a popular governor from an unpopular party.
In 2019, then-state Attorney General Andy Beshear (D) narrowly beat then-incumbent Gov. Matt Bevin (R). Bevin was originally elected in 2015 to replace Beshear’s father, who was term-limited as governor. Bevin, an anti-establishment conservative, burnt a few too many bridges during his term and, despite the state’s friendly lean, was weighed down by poor approval ratings.
Now, facing reelection himself, Beshear is in essentially the opposite situation as Bevin was 4 years ago. According to Morning Consult’s April 2022 polling, Beshear was the most popular Democratic governor in the country. In Morning Consult’s more recent October 2022 poll, he retained that title. But Kentucky is also the reddest state (by 2020 presidential results) that currently has a Democratic governor — so, as impressive as Beshear’s approvals are, they are not necessarily enough to guarantee reelection.
On Friday, filing for the gubernatorial contest closed. On the Republican side, about a dozen candidates, including 3 current statewide officials, filed to run in the May 16 primary. Though Kentucky has the earliest primary of the 3 states that will elect governors this year — in other words, Republicans won’t be beating up on each other into the fall, as has been the case in recent Louisiana races (more on that later) — state GOP consultant Scott Jennings quipped that “crazy things” could happen.
Still, the nominal frontrunner in the Republican contest is Daniel Cameron, who currently holds Beshear’s old job as state Attorney General. Cameron, a Black Republican who is 37 and has connections to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), first ran for office in 2019 — he easily defeated then-state Rep. Greg Stumbo, an Appalachian Democrat who had a lengthy resume in state politics. As Beshear did with Bevin, Cameron has battled the governor while in office, most notably on COVID measures. Shortly after Cameron entered the race, last May, he received Donald Trump’s endorsement.
The other statewide Republicans who are running for a promotion are Auditor Mike Harmon and Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles. Harmon first got to office in something of an upset, defeating then-Auditor Adam Edelen, who was thought to be a rising star in state Democratic politics (Edelen later lost to Beshear in the 2019 gubernatorial primary). Quarles has fundraised competitively with Cameron, while Harmon’s totals have been less impressive. Kelly Knight Craft, who served in the Trump Administration as ambassador to Canada and then to the United Nations, is another serious Republican. Craft is both a billionaire and an ample fundraiser, so money should not be an issue for her campaign.
Beshear, although he is expected to win his primary easily, will have 2 opponents, the more notable of whom is Geoff Young. A perennial candidate, Young has been denounced by fellow Democrats for, among other things, his pro-Vladimir Putin stances. In any case, the non-Beshear vote in the primary will likely be a protest vote more than anything else.
Aside from the potential for a chaotic Republican primary, there are more local factors working in Beshear’s favor. In 2017, the Crystal Ball looked at the types of political implications that natural disasters can have. Governors who are perceived to handle disasters well often get an electoral boost. Last year, though he was already favored, Gov. Ron DeSantis’s (R-FL) response to Hurricane Ian likely padded his margin. Since 2019, Kentucky has been hit by tornadoes in the west, while the Appalachian east has seen historic flooding. Beshear’s responses to the state’s crises have enabled him to cultivate something of a postpartisan image.
The 2022 election cycle, at least in terms of its partisan results, was not especially kind to Kentucky Democrats: though they retained representation in the federal delegation by holding the open and very Democratic Louisville-based KY-3, Republicans expanded their already-robust majority in the state House — the GOP captured 80 of the chamber’s 100 seats. But the result of one of last year’s state referendums may give Democrats more encouragement. Amendment 2 was supported by many prominent Republicans — if passed, it would have confirmed that the state constitution does not guarantee a right to abortion. Amendment 2 failed by close to 5 points.
Though the status of abortion in Kentucky is being settled in the courts, from a purely electoral perspective, the anti-Amendment 2 vote may provide something of a template for a Beshear win this year. The state’s 2 largest counties, Louisville’s Jefferson and Lexington’s Fayette, both voted over 70% against the amendment — in 2019, Beshear himself received about two-thirds of the vote in each of those large counties. (Those are the pockets of dark blue on the map.) The 3 northernmost counties, which are in Cincinnati’s orbit, also voted, in aggregate, against Amendment 2. Beshear’s overperformance in northern Kentucky was key to his 2 previous statewide wins. It is hard to transfer every element of a referendum to an actual partisan contest, but a similar vote in Kansas last summer presaged Gov. Laura Kelly’s (D-KS) victory in another red state.
Considering the governor’s personal popularity and the potential for uncertainty in the Republican primary, we are starting Beshear off as a slight favorite and calling the Kentucky contest Leans Democratic.
Thursday, January 12, 2023
Republicans are going to try to put women in jail for abortions, and since the FDA made abortion medication over the counter last month, the GOP is making it clear the next steps are to treat that medication as illegal drugs and prosecute pharmacies, doctors, and women for sale and use.
Alabama’s attorney general became the most prominent Republican official yet to suggest that pregnant women could be prosecuted for taking abortion pills, saying in recent days that a state ban targeting those who facilitate abortions does not preclude the state from seeking to penalize women under other existing laws.
The comment reflects a simmering divide within the antiabortion movement, which has long sought to treat women seeking abortions as “victims” and not as targets for punishment.
In the wake of the June Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade, movement leaders promised that women had nothing to fear — even as Republican leaders in more than a dozen states in the South and Midwest moved aggressively to enact strict abortion bans, though almost always targeting providers rather than patients.
Alabama’s near-total ban, which took effect soon after the Supreme Court ruling, exempts abortion seekers from prosecution, including penalties only for those who help people obtain abortions. In his statement, Attorney General Steve Marshall’s office suggests that pregnant women could still be prosecuted under a separate 2006 state law that has been used to punish women for drug consumption during pregnancy.
The abortion ban “does not provide an across-the-board exemption from all criminal laws, including the chemical-endangerment law — which the Alabama Supreme Court has affirmed and reaffirmed protects unborn children,” Marshall’s office said in a statement to The Washington Post on Wednesday. It was first reported Saturday by 1819 News.
Underscoring the tensions surrounding the issue, a spokesman for Marshall issued a subsequent statement in response to The Post that appeared to back away from endorsing the prosecution of abortion seekers. “The Attorney General’s beef is with illegal providers, not women,” said Cameron Mixon, Marshall’s deputy communications director, in response to a request to interview Marshall.
Marshall’s statement comes at a moment of turmoil for the antiabortion movement, with many Republicans still reeling from a 2022 midterm election where voters turned out in droves to support abortion rights a few months after the high court’s ruling. As Congress and state legislatures convene for the new year, some lawmakers are urging caution on the abortion issue, while others press for further restrictions.
The rise of abortion pills has been a particular sore point for many antiabortion advocates, frustrated that the fall of Roe has not succeeded in halting abortions in states where the procedure is banned. Galvanized by a recent decision by the Food and Drug Administration to allow retail pharmacies to dispense abortion pills in states where abortion is legal, as well as an emerging network distributing abortion pills illegally, some hard-line Republicans are seeking ways to further crack down on the procedure.
Democrat Aaron Rouse has won a special election for a state Senate seat in Virginia after his Republican opponent conceded in a race that was widely viewed as a proxy fight over abortion.
Rouse, a former NFL player who has served on the Virginia Beach City Council for the past few years, flipped a GOP seat that had been held by Jen Kiggans until she won a congressional seat in November. Rouse defeated Republican Kevin Adams, a retired lieutenant commander in the Navy.
“While the results last night were not what we wanted, I am proud of the campaign that we ran and so thankful for everyone who believed in me and this campaign along the way,” Adams said in a concession statement a day after Tuesday's special election.
Democrats will have a 22-18 majority in the state Senate, and Rouse is expected to provide a crucial vote against efforts by Gov. Glenn Youngkin and GOP legislators to pass a bill that would ban abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, instead of the current threshold of around 26 weeks.
“Reproductive rights and freedom in Virginia have been hanging by a tenuous thread, especially in the wake of Roe being overturned, and the only thing standing in the way is a one-vote margin in the Virginia state Senate," Tarina Keene, the executive director of REPRO Rising Virginia, said Wednesday.
"It all comes down to one vote, and having Aaron Rouse added to the state Senate in this precarious time only helps shore up reproductive rights and freedom here in the commonwealth. We know that he is a champion for reproductive rights and freedom and will be a solid vote no on any abortion ban that should be introduced in Virginia now,” Keene added.
Democratic state Sen. Joe Morrissey last week expressed willingness to consider proposals to restrict abortion access, telling WRIC-TV of Richmond in an interview that he would keep an "open mind."
Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears, a Republican, casts tiebreaking votes in the Senate, meaning Adams’ victory, coupled with Morrissey’s potentially backing the measure, could have put Youngkin in a stronger position to get his abortion proposal through. Republicans control the House of Delegates.
During the campaign, Rouse said protecting access to abortion was a priority, vowing on his website that he would “not compromise” on abortion rights.
Adams, meanwhile, said he would back Youngkin’s proposed ban “while providing reasonable exceptions to protect the life of the mother or in the instance of rape or incest,” according to a statement on his campaign website. Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America backed Adams in the race.