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Race for Ky. governor heats up as both campaigns, supporters clear $11 million in ad buys

 A campaign ad for incumbent Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear aims at courting the votes of teachers, a constituency oft-cited as swinging the 2019 gubernatorial election in his favor.
Andy Beshear For Governor
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A campaign ad for incumbent Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear aims at courting the votes of teachers, a constituency oft-cited as swinging the 2019 gubernatorial election in his favor.

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear and his challenger for the seat, Republican Daniel Cameron both released new ads this week as the gubernatorial race heats up with three months still to go.

Two new ads from Gov. Andy Beshear’s campaign focusing on the governor’s ties to teachers are hitting Kentuckians’ TVs as the incumbent Democrat’s race against Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron heats up. On Friday, Cameron also debuted an ad, following several from PACs supporting him in the campaign.

The two camps have been exchanging ads since the primary election in May ahead of the November general election. Experts in Kentucky politics predicted the race for the Kentucky governor’s seat would be the most closely watched election in the nation this year, and money from across the country is flowing in.

According to AdImpact, an ad tracking firm, by July 14 the candidates and their supporters had already spent $11.1 million in ad reservations with more than three months until election day. The spending far outpaces Beshear’s first run for governor against previous Gov. Matt Bevin in 2019; at this point in 2019, only $1.7 million had been spent on the respective campaigns.

The ads that Beshear released this week focused on the part of his constituency that many said helped him oust Bevin in 2019 — teachers. Beshear’s campaign revisits the teacher protests against the former Republican governor’s plan to move newly hired teachers to a hybrid pension plan, which the Kentucky Supreme Court struck down. Sen. Robby Mills, Cameron’s recently announced running mate, supported the legislation.

They also pointed to Cameron’s support for a tax-credit scholarship fund in Kentucky that was also struck down by the state’s Supreme Court.

“Our teachers are heroes, and public schools are the backbones of our communities,” Beshear said in one of the new ads. “Daniel Cameron’s policies would undermine our teachers, our parents, and our public schools.”

In response to Beshear’s ads, Cameron said in a statement that, if elected, his administration will support the state’s educators, students and parents, and characterized Beshear’s words as “empty promises.”

In a speech to a group of school administrators last week, Cameron distanced himself from some of Bevin’s statements deriding teachers without naming the man himself.

“Sorry if me or anyone in my party has ever given you the impression that we don’t appreciate you or that we don’t respect you,” Cameron said. “Let me assure you that the Republican Party in this state under my leadership will show that we do — not only in word but in deed.”

A campaign ad for GOP gubernatorial nominee Daniel Cameron aims to position the Kentucky attorney general as the "law and order" candidate.
Daniel Cameron For Governor
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A campaign ad for GOP gubernatorial nominee Daniel Cameron aims to position the Kentucky attorney general as the "law and order" candidate.

Cameron’s campaign also released a new ad Friday focusing on the fact that fewer people are working in Kentucky. The ad also claimed that violent crime and the synthetic opioid drug fentanyl are rampant in Kentucky.

The U.S. Department of Labor Statistics shows a roughly 22,000 person decrease since December 2019 in the state’s labor force. But there are also less people in Kentucky’s labor force overall, and the unemployment rate has also held steady at less than 4% in 2023.

Kentucky was also one of few states to see a decrease in overdose deaths between 2021 and 2022 with a 5% drop. But advocacy group VOCAL-KY and others have called on the Louisville Metro Government and the state to do more to fight overdoses in the state. Homicides also decreased in the state between 2021 and 2022, from 647 to 531.

Alex Floyd, a spokesperson for Beshear’s campaign, said that Cameron ran for attorney general on a promise to crack down on fentanyl and crime and that his ad “suggests he failed.”

“No wonder he has refused to take any responsibility whatsoever for crime,” the spokesperson said. “Kentuckians won’t give a promotion to someone who has failed in their current job and is running an empty, ideas-free, divisive campaign.”

Meanwhile, PACs supporting Cameron — the School Freedom Fund and Bluegrass Freedom Action – also released two new ads this week. Both ads focus on the 18,000 sentences that Beshear commuted to deal with the rapid spread of COVID-19 inside prisons (although each ad features a different number of commutations). Both PACs suggested that a little less than half of those released went on to commit crimes again.

A 2021 Courier Journal investigation, however, found that many of the crimes took place after the people with commuted sentences were scheduled to be released regardless. One of the ads also pointed to Beshear’s decision to make it a misdemeanor to attend mass gatherings of people ahead of Easter during the COVID-19 pandemic, with a few churches across the state choosing to disregard the order.

The ads continue to set up Cameron and Mills as, what the GOP nominee described at a news conference in July, the “law and order ticket.”

This is not the first time the new campaigns have exchanged ads. On July 28, the Cameron-supporting PAC Kentucky Values released an ad that said, “Beshear supports allowing young children to undergo permanent gender-changing surgery.” The ad then quotes two news articles, seeming to attribute the quoted phrases to Beshear. In neither article are the two phrases attributed to any one person, let alone Beshear.

Beshear has since come out with his own ad, saying he does not support gender reassignment surgery for children.

A ban on gender-affirming surgery was one of many restrictions on LGBTQ+ youth in SB150, a bill banning all gender-affirming medical care for youth and restricting which bathrooms trans kids can use in Kentucky’s public schools. Beshear vetoed the bill earlier this year, before it was quickly overridden by the legislature. The incumbent Democrat says he never supported allowing kids to access gender changing surgeries.
Copyright 2023 WKMS. To see more, visit WKMS.

Sylvia is the Capitol reporter for Kentucky Public Radio, a collaboration including Louisville Public Media, WEKU-Richmond, WKU Public Radio and WKMS-Murray. Email her at sgoodman@lpm.org.