FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Fresh off a victory in Republican-leaning Kentucky that raised his national profile, Gov. Andy Beshear said Wednesday that Democrats can overcome America’s deep divisions by trying “to lead with compassion” and improving the lives of the people who elect them.
After a bitter campaign against GOP state Attorney General Daniel Cameron, the governor stressed the importance of everyday issues, from good jobs and roads to quality health care and safe neighborhoods — what’s on voters’ minds heading into the 2024 elections.
“Those are the key components, the key worries of American families,” Beshear told The Associated Press in his first sit-down interview since securing a second term. “So if there’s a road map to Democrats out there, stick with that. Where you ought to be is where people live. Because you ought to be doing this not to have one more ‘D’ in any chamber or as a governor, but to help people. And so if you really want to help people, talk about the things that they’re most concerned about.”
Beshear, 45, showed the skills to win in difficult political terrain for Democrats, with Republicans claiming all the statewide offices beyond governor and lieutenant governor.
In his victory speech Tuesday night, Beshear said his reelection sent a clear message that “anger politics” should end. Amplifying that theme in the interview, he denounced efforts to “rile people up, to get them to dislike another Kentuckian or another American in order to get a certain number of votes.”
He said “every part” of Cameron’s campaign “was viewed through a lens of partisanship.” The Republicans’ strategy, he said, showed how such an approach turns off voters.
“You look at all of the different things that they did in this campaign, from trying to demonize groups of people to just so many different attacks, trying to find a boogeyman,” Beshear said.
The best response, he said, is “to show leadership in a different way, one that puts love over hate, one that doesn’t judge lest we be judged, that tries to lead with compassion and recognizes that this isn’t a game. These are people’s lives.”
Donald Trump had a different take, saying in a social media post that his endorsed candidate, Cameron, lost because he couldn’t “alleviate the stench of Mitch McConnell,” the longtime Republican leader in the U.S. Senate from Kentucky who has tried to steer his party in a post-Trump era. Cameron was a McConnell protege.
Beshear avoided discussing national politics during the campaign, and in the interview, sidestepped questions about Trump and Democratic President Joe Biden, whom he was confident would be the party’s nominee in 2024.
“I’m pretty sure that this is going to be a rematch from before,” Beshear said, referring to the 2020 contest, when Biden defeated Trump.
As for his potential political future, the governor said serving a second four-year term is “the only plan that I have.”
Beshear said his reelection offered further evidence that voters want to change the state’s near-total abortion ban. The abortion rights supporter has said the ban is extremist, with a lack of exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest.
His campaign ran a TV ad featuring a young woman, now in her early 20s, who revealed that she was raped and impregnated by her stepfather when she was 12 years old, and eventually miscarried. Beshear said Wednesday that her message resonated with voters and that she attended his election night victory party.
“You want to talk about a courageous young woman, willing to speak out for so many others,” he said. “You know, the people could try to put her in a box but she is so much more than just that, but wanting to be that voice for the voiceless.”
After a first term that was dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic and his handling of the response to devastating tornadoes and flooding, Beshear said he will push for pay raises for teachers and other public school employees and state-funded preschool for every 4-year-old in Kentucky.
Beshear was back at the statehouse the morning after his reelection victory. On his way to the AP interview, he high-fived a group of schoolchildren visiting the Capitol.