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Beshear It Is

Could Andy Beshear Be President One Day?

The Democratic governor's reelection in deep-red Kentucky has observers wondering about his political future.

Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear
Stephen Cohen/Getty Images
Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear delivers his victory speech in Louisville on November 7

Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear is an increasingly rare phenomenon: a Democrat able to win a deep-red state not once but twice. Beshear’s November reelection victory over Republican Daniel Cameron has raised his profile, leaving political observers to wonder whether a Democrat who won a statewide race in Kentucky—which supported Trump by a 26-point margin in 2020—could have similar success on a national stage.

Beshear is one of the most popular governors in America; a Morning Consult poll in October found that 43 percent of Republicans, as well as nearly 60 percent of independents, approve of his performance. The poll also showed that he has the highest net approval rating of any Democratic governor in a red state. Given these numbers, some Democrats say he’s a national model for the party when it comes to swaying voters in otherwise hostile territory—and has well-positioned himself to seek higher office.

“He has shown a path for Democrats on how to win in tough districts and tough states,” said Representative Morgan McGarvey, the sole Democrat in the Kentucky congressional delegation. “I hope—as an American—we move past the politics of hatred and division, and Andy Beshear has done a great job of that in Kentucky. And if there’s an appetite for that nationally, I think he would do a good job of it nationally.”

But the conditions that propelled Beshear to victory in Kentucky may not be replicable on a larger scale. The race was relatively localized, with Beshear able to tout his leadership during the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and recent natural disasters, like the unprecedented flooding in the summer of 2022. D. Stephen Voss, an associate professor of political science at the University of Kentucky, described Beshear as benefiting from a “blue undertow” that has accompanied recent red waves in the state. For example, although Republicans have maintained overwhelming power in the state legislature, Kentuckians voted to protect abortion rights in a ballot initiative in 2023. Beshear himself campaigned strongly on his support for abortion rights in 2023, such as a powerful campaign ad narrated by a young woman who had obtained an abortion after she was raped by her stepfather.

“W​​e know that the communities that are kind of Republican-leaning but nonetheless somewhat pro-choice leaning have broken for him twice in a row,” Voss said. “Beshear has managed to handle abortion in a way that both attracts the votes of people who think restrictions have become too overbearing without really whipping up the anger or mobilized opposition of people who were roughly anti-abortion.”

Beshear has also benefited from relatively weak opponents, particularly in 2019, when he challenged deeply unpopular incumbent Republican Governor Matt Bevin. “I said in this in 2019: ‘Don’t read any more into this than Matt Bevin was just an asshole, and everyone hated him,’” said Tres Watson, the former spokesperson for the state Republican Party. Cameron, now the state attorney general, was a stronger candidate than Bevin, but Watson said that his campaign was “not particularly well-run.” Cameron emphasized culture war topics, particularly transgender rights, which turned out to be less salient for voters in the general election than in the primary.

Moreover, Beshear had the advantage of near-universal name recognition, not only as the incumbent but as the son of former two-term Governor Steve Beshear. “He’s basically the fourth-term of the Beshear dynasty,” cracked Representative Thomas Massie, a Kentucky Republican. “You could try to read something into it, but the danger in doing that is, I think he’s the last Democrat who is ever going to be governor in Kentucky.”

Despite these relatively favorable conditions, McGarvey said that Beshear still had notable strengths as a candidate. In congressional campaign terms, McGarvey argued, Beshear was running in a “Trump +30 district”—meaning an area where the former president won by nearly 30 percentage points. “Can you imagine the [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] playing in a Trump +30 district, regardless of what our candidate looked like, and regardless of what their candidate looked like? You’d just write it off,” McGarvey said.

McGarvey agreed that Cameron may have been a weak candidate but questioned why Republicans did not then field a stronger alternative in a theoretically winnable election. “Sometimes when you’re an incumbent, you don’t draw the strongest candidate if you’ve done a really good job,” McGarvey said. “[Senator] Rand Paul won 62 percent of the vote in Kentucky in 2022. And Andy Beshear just won with 52 and a half percent.”

Juxtaposing Paul and Beshear’s successes may be an apples and oranges comparison. If Beshear aspires for federal office, he might not find success challenging Paul or Senator Mitch McConnell. Watson contended that if both Cameron and Beshear had executed the exact same campaigns in a race for the Senate, Cameron would have won. Where a governor’s race is more localized, a Senate race is typically defined by national issues; personal affection for Beshear would not necessarily translate to electoral success.

“When it comes to the Senate, they’re going to vote on party lines,” Watson said. “Especially in a largely rural state, there’s a vastly different opinion of who [voters] want their governor to be, versus a U.S. senator.”

There is some precedent for a successful Democratic governor in a red state losing a Senate race. When two-term Montana Governor Steve Bullock ran for Senate in 2020, he lost to Republican incumbent Senator Steve Daines by a 10-point margin. Trump, not coincidentally, was also on the ballot that year. He was not on the ballot, however, for Beshear’s three statewide election victories—in 2015 for attorney general, and 2019 and 2023 for governor.

The political realities of governing Kentucky may also dampen the chatter of Beshear’s national political ascent. “Beshear will struggle to continue racking up victories of the sort that currently have people excited about him, because he’s operating with Republican supermajorities in both chambers of our general assembly,” Voss said. The state legislature can override a veto with a simple majority vote, meaning that it is relatively easy to nullify Beshear’s power. “We don’t know much about his negotiating ability, because he and Republicans have hardly worked together at all. There’s really not a great sense of his skill set.”

Still, a Senate seat is hardly the only option for advancement should Beshear choose to seek federal office. Watson argued that Beshear might make for a solid vice presidential contender in the coming years, as his status as a white, red-state Democratic governor could balance a ticket with a woman or person of color running for president; alternatively, he may make for a prospective cabinet official. “He’s young, he’s a lawyer, you could easily plug him into any administration post,” said Watson.

Beshear’s name has also been bandied about as a potential future presidential candidate, but he has succeeded in Kentucky by keeping his campaigning oriented on issues of the commonwealth, emphasizing himself as a state rather than a national figure. Although Beshear “made out like a bandit” in typically Republican counties hit by recent disastrous flooding, Voss said, that wouldn’t necessarily endear him to voters in other states. “He’s been the face of Kentucky relief efforts, not national relief efforts,” Voss said.

For all the conversation about Beshear’s national prospects, the governor himself said in an interview with The Lexington Herald-Leader, “It’s okay with me if this is my last political job.”

Being governor is an incredible job. I love being governor because I love this state. My only plans right now are to do the very best I can for our people and to try to finish raising my kids the best I can,” Beshear said.

McGarvey also insisted that Beshear himself would not be focused on what comes after the governorship to which he was just reelected—even if Democrats elsewhere in the country see him as a potential future party leader.

“I promise you, right now he is focused on the budget that comes out next January, and how that impacts Kentucky. That’s the kind of guy he is,” McGarvey said. “But I think that when people across the country get to know Andy and see what he’s done in Kentucky, then I think he can do a great job taking the message of hope and empathy and results across the country.”