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Five takeaways from Beshear-Cameron debate in northern Kentucky

Gov. Andy Beshear and Attorney General Daniel Cameron sparred on the debate stage at Northern Kentucky University.
WCPO Cincinnati
Gov. Andy Beshear and Attorney General Daniel Cameron sparred on the debate stage at Northern Kentucky University.

With three weeks until Election Day, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear and Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron shared the debate stage for the second time this election season. The discussion at Northern Kentucky University spanned issues like abortion, education and crime.

The debate was the first not limited to questions about the economy and Beshear and Cameron came out swinging, accusing each other of manipulating facts and providing starkly different visions of the state of affairs.

Here are the top five takeaways from the debate:

1. Beshear calls out Cameron for constantly bringing up Biden

Throughout the campaign, Cameron has tied Beshear to President Joe Biden, who is unpopular in Kentucky. In a debate in Paducah last week, Cameron connected the two Democrats frequently, blaming them for inflation, COVID lockdowns and the ailing coal industry. Right from his opening comments on Monday, Beshear called out Cameron for the tactic.

“What you're going to hear from the other side are attacks. In the last debate. You mentioned the word ‘jobs’ zero times but Joe Biden’s name 16 [times],” Beshear said.

Referencing the state’s recent legalization of sports betting, Beshear bet Cameron would mention Joe Biden 16 and a half times during the debate. Cameron ended up bringing up Joe Biden at least six times.

“Andy Beshear and Joe Biden will tell you that everything is good in this country, but that's certainly not the case. I suspect that you are concerned about inflation destroying your wallet, concerned about the far-left indoctrinating your kids and Joe Biden's war on coal,” Cameron said during his own opening address, right after Beshear’s “bet.”

2. Battling for the teacher vote

Teachers buoyed Beshear’s bid for governor in 2019 after former GOP Gov. Matt Bevin sparred with educators throughout his one term in office.

Cameron has attempted to distance himself from the unpopular former governor,while fighting to claw back some of the “teacher vote” during this year’s race. That trend continued in Monday night’s debate. Cameron said he’ll support teachers by taking purported “left-wing ideology” out of schools.

“You should never have leadership in Frankfort that speaks down and denigrates our hard working teachers. I'm going to be a governor who lifts our teachers up and does not pit a political party against our teachers,” Cameron said.

Cameron did not answer a question asking whether or not he supports charter schools or other so-called “school choice” programs. He wouldn’t clarify his position when asked by reporters after the debate.

Beshear said Cameron is falsely accusing teachers of promoting “left-wing ideologies.”

“This attorney general claims [teachers] are doing terrible things in their classrooms, but I've heard it over and over across the state,” Beshear said. “People's kids aren't being exposed to these things through the classroom or through libraries. They’re being exposed to them through my opponent’s commercials.”

3. Abortion gets discussed on the debate stage for the first time

Beshear said he supports rape and incest exceptions to Kentucky’s near-total abortion ban and said additional limitations should be left up to the courts.

“The right way … is taking it out of the hands of politicians and ultimately allowing courts to balance access,” Beshear said.

Cameron said he would sign a bill adding rape and incest exceptions to the ban if passed by the legislature, but wouldn’t clarify if he personally supports the exceptions. Instead Cameron accused Beshear of being the “abortion governor.”

“He wants no limits on abortion. And the fact of the matter is he didn't want to talk about this and his extreme position on abortion because he knows that it offends the majority of Kentuckians,” Cameron said.

Beshear responded, saying he supports “reasonable limitations” on abortions and does not support late-term abortions.

4. Death penalty

Last month, several state House Republicans announced an 18-point public safety plan that included an expansion of the death penalty to crimes like killing a police officer and deadly carjacking. The candidates were both questioned on whether they agree with some of the pieces of the plan.

Cameron said he supports the proposed legislation and “applauds” the members who put it forward.

“You've seen that words are not enough they need someone that's going to stand with them in support our law enforcement community,” Cameron said. “I will do that as the next governor of Kentucky.”

Beshear said he supports the death penalty for the most heinous crimes and would consider expanding it on a case-by-case basis. But Beshear pointed out no one has been executed in Kentucky since 2008, partly because of challenges to the state’s lethal injection protocol.

Beshear said he agreed with some pieces of the legislation but said the state needs to find a balance between criminalizing those who commit crimes while making sure people with mental illnesses get the treatment they need.

5. Fighting over who gets credit — for the good and the bad

Though as attorney general Cameron is the state’s chief law enforcement officer, he blamed Beshear for rising crime rates. And he said the GOP-led legislature is to thank for recent economic development wins in the state, like the Ford electirc vehicle battery plant slated for Hardin County.

Beshear accused Cameron of playing partisan politics and deflecting blame or credit to whichever benefits his party.

“This is what happens when you have one of the most partisan candidates for governor that we've seen,” Beshear said. “Anything good that happens must be the General Assembly. Anything bad that happens must be the governor.”

Cameron emphasized his relationships with the legislature, saying he would work better with key stakeholders on policy decisions.

“This governor has been on the other side,” Cameron said. “[Our legislature has] done the good and responsible work of making sure that we have a pro-business environment.”

Beshear said Cameron should share some of the blame for increases in crime.

“The attorney general is the top cop and the top prosecutor in the Commonwealth,” Beshear said. “He just tried to blame me entirely for a rise in crime when he's the top cop. It shows you that he plays the blame game, the partisan game.”

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.

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