Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron tried pushing national politics to the forefront of the governor’s race in GOP-trending Kentucky, while Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear played up the state’s record-setting economic growth under his leadership as the rivals squared off at a forum Thursday.
In the first of several crucial faceoffs before the Nov. 7 election, Cameron repeatedly tried linking Beshear to Joe Biden while denouncing the Democratic president for his handling of the economy and for his energy polices. As the onslaught continued, Beshear quipped: “Well everybody, if you had Joe Biden or the far-left on your bingo card today, congratulations, you just won.”
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“The reason that you hear that is to create fear,” Beshear said while sharing the stage with his rival in Paducah in western Kentucky. “This attorney general knows that if this race is about me versus him, that you know who I am and how I’ve led and how I’ve shown up every day.”
Cameron tried putting Beshear on the defensive on Kentucky issues including taxes and crime. But the challenger spent much of his time blasting away at Biden in hopes of eroding support for Beshear.
He blamed Biden’s policies for fueling higher inflation, putting a strain on family budgets. And he portrayed the president as an opponent of coal production, vowing that if elected governor, he would “fight against Joe Biden the same way that I’ve been doing as attorney general.”
The coal industry is still viewed by many as a cornerstone of Kentucky’s economy, though it has declined considerably. A decade ago, mine workers in Kentucky’s underground and surface mines totaled around 20,000, but that has now declined to about 4,500, according to state statistics.
Beshear and Cameron fielded questions on the economy, taxes, education and transportation issues, but the conversation often turned to Cameron’s efforts to nationalize the statewide race — a well-worn Republican strategy in red states.
The candidates stuck to their often-used campaign pitches during the hourlong event. Beshear offered an upbeat assessment of the state, while Cameron pounded away at the governor’s record.
Beshear pointed to his role in leading recovery efforts in tornado- and flood-stricken parts of Kentucky. Mayfield, about a half-hour away from Paducah, took a direct hit from a tornado in late 2021.
The governor also touted the state’s record-high economic development growth and record-low unemployment rates during his term, building on a theme he has made a cornerstone of his reelection bid. He vowed that the fast pace of new economic projects would continue if he wins a second term.
“We are on an economic win streak the likes of which we have never seen, with a true opportunity to turn our brain drain into a brain gain and to leave a legacy of more opportunity for our kids and grandkids than we ever thought was possible,” he said.
Cameron pointed at restrictions the governor placed on businesses and others during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Virus-related school closures led to significant learning loss among many Kentucky students, Cameron said. Beshear says his actions saved lives and mirrored those in other states, reflecting guidance from then-President Donald Trump’s administration.
Cameron vowed to keep Kentucky on course toward eliminating its individual income tax.
“The difference between me and Andy Beshear is that he thinks government is in the best position to utilize your money,” Cameron said. “I think you are in the best position to make choices about how to spend your money.”
Beshear signed a bill this year that was another step toward phasing out the income tax. The Republican-led legislature revamped the state’s tax code last year to gradually phase out individual income taxes while extending the state sales tax to more services. The governor said again Thursday that he vetoed the original bill last year because of those sales tax provisions.
Cameron also reaffirmed his support for requiring some able-bodied adults to work in exchange for health coverage through Medicaid. It’s become one of the campaign’s starkest policy differences. Beshear halted an attempt by the state’s previous GOP governor, Matt Bevin, to create a Medicaid work requirement that Beshear says would have stripped coverage from about 100,000 Kentuckians. Cameron said the work requirement would bolster the state’s workforce participation.
Meanwhile, Cameron accused Beshear of failing on core issues most important to families while trying to take credit for accomplishments related to actions by the Republican legislature.
“On issue after issue, whether it is education, whether it is crime, whether it is protecting the family unit, he has put his head in the sand,” Cameron said.
But the sharpest exchanges came as Cameron tried to nationalize the race. While the Republican lambasted Biden policies, Beshear said his challenger sees everything “through a partisan lens.”
“I believe we as Kentuckians have more that unite us than the issues of Washington, D.C., can ever tear us apart,” Beshear said.
Associated Press Writer Dylan Lovan in Louisville, Ky., contributed to this report.