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Kentucky Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear wins reelection over challenger backed by Trump

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear speaks during a press conference at the Kentucky state Capitol in Frankfort, on Jan. 19, 2023. (Ryan C. Hermens/Lexington Herald-Leader/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

Ryan C. Hermens | Lexington Herald-leader | Getty Images

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, is projected to win reelection to a second term in office Tuesday, defeating Republican challenger Daniel Cameron, the state’s attorney general, according to the NBC News Decision Desk.

Beshear, 45, led the Trump-backed Cameron, 37, for most the campaign, but late polling showed the candidates in a dead heat.

Beshear is broadly popular with voters, with a 60% approval rating, despite governing as a Democrat in a socially conservative state where voters overwhelmingly backed former President Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020.

Cameron’s campaign had hoped to rally conservatives into voting against Beshear by painting him as too liberal on issues like abortion and LGBTQ rights.

But Cameron’s loss Tuesday suggests that social issues, and abortion in particular, could continue to tip elections in favor of Democrats more than a year after the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, which stripped women of the constitutional right to an abortion.

Beshear sought to convince conservative voters that he governs above partisan politics. He responded swiftly to the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 and flooding in eastern Kentucky in 2022.

The governor also touted Kentucky’s economic performance, with the state recording its lowest unemployment rate in history last year, though joblessness has ticked up slightly since then.

Cameron attacked Beshear for supporting abortion and LGBTQ rights, betting that the governor’s positions were out of synch with Kentucky voters.

Beshear stood his ground on those issues, and put Cameron on the defensive over abortion.

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, who is running for reelection, and Republican nominee and Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, shake hands before the Paducah Area Chamber of Commerceís Power in Partnership Luncheon and Gubernatorial Forum at the Paducah-McCracken County Convention Center in Paducah, Kentucky, on Oct. 12, 2023.

Ryan C. Hermens | Tribune News Service | Getty Images

Kentucky’s Republican-dominated legislature had a trigger law on the books that banned abortion after the Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022. The state’s stringent ban only allows abortion when the mother’s life is in danger or she is at risk of a disabling injury.

Beshear slammed the ban as “extreme” and “absolutely wrong” in a televised debate with Cameron in October, emphasizing that the law does not provide exceptions for rape and incest.

“My opponent’s position would give a rapist more rights than their victim,” Beshear said. “We need to change this law.”

Cameron hailed the ban when it went into effect and the attorney general defended the law in state courts. As the election approached, Cameron softened his position on amending the law to include rape and incest exceptions.

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“If the legislature were to give me a bill with exemptions in it, I would certainly sign it,” Cameron said during the debate, while trying to paint Beshear as a supporter of abortion rights and positioning himself as the anti-abortion candidate.

Cameron also went after Beshear, the most pro-LGBTQ governor in Kentucky state history, for vetoing bills that target transgender individuals.

Beshear vetoed legislation last year that banned transgender girls and women from playing on girls’ and women’s sports teams in the sixth grade through college. In March, the governor vetoed another bill that banned gender-affirming care for children.

“My faith teaches me that all children are the children of God,” Beshear wrote in his March veto message, warning that banning gender-affirming care would endanger kids.

“Improving access to gender-affirming care is an important means of improving health outcomes for the transgender population,” Beshear wrote.

The Republican-dominated legislature later overrode both of Beshear’s vetoes.

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