Local operatives and analysts think Kentucky’s gubernatorial campaign later this year will serve as a stress test for Democrats’ capacity to endure in GOP-dominated states since the party’s hold on the Senate and the White House depends on contests in comparably red and purple areas of the country in 2024.
First-term Governor Andy Beshear, a Democrat who narrowly defeated Republican predecessor Matt Bevin in the 2019 election by just over 5,000 votes, is running unopposed for reelection on a platform that is unattached to national issues and centered on local concerns.
Strategists claim that after four years in government, Beshear lacks some of Bevin’s flaws as a contender. Beshear, a former state attorney general whose father, a Democrat, served as governor from 2007 to 2015, has stressed his work assisting Kentucky in recovering from many natural disasters and the COVID-19 outbreak while shunning nationalistic labels.
Even his Republican detractors admit that his go-anywhere strategy enhances his credibility as an executive and a compassionate person.
“Beshear is going to be difficult to beat, and I would argue he’s probably the front-runner,” said Kentucky-based GOP strategist Scott Jennings, an adviser to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Nevertheless, Beshear’s biggest flaw, in the opinion of his rivals, is that he is a Democrat in a state where Republicans predominate at many levels of government.
The outcome of his reelection campaign, in which his Republican opponent’s identity is still unknown, may reveal the viability of candidates similar to him in elections held in Republican-friendly states like West Virginia, Ohio, and Montana next year, where Democrats are defending seats and attempting to maintain their slim Senate majority.
Should he run again as predicted, the path for President Joe Biden’s reelection in 2024 depends probably on capturing historically Republican areas like Arizona and Georgia, as he did in 2020.
Both parties are already looking for hints about the political climate for the coming year.
According to Jennings, Beshear’s surprise victory in 2019 held clues for the subsequent cycle: “I think you might be able to look in certain kinds of voter pockets and demographic pockets and see who did what. I do think some of the suburban, center right-ish, moderate-type Republicans held out against Bevin in ’19, and that was a little bit of a foreshadowing of what happened to Trump in ’20.”
“I also think that demographically, Beshear does a little better with older voters than Democrats do. That’s something that I think Biden experienced in ’20,” Jennings said.