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Kentucky's governor's race expected to be most competitive election in 2023

Beshear
Posted at 5:16 PM, Jan 17, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-17 19:17:46-05

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — Kentucky is one of three states that will vote for a governor in 2023. And some political insiders expect Kentucky's race to be the most competitive of the three.

So, what can voters expect over the next few months? Likely a lot of attacks aimed at the incumbent: Governor Andy Beshear.

"It's pretty hard to pull down a popular incumbent without going negative - at least to some degree," said Dr. Stephen Voss, a political science professor at the University of Kentucky.

Despite being a Democrat in a state that increasingly votes for Republicans, Gov. Beshear's approval rating is high.

According to a recent Morning Consult survey, Gov. Beshear is the most popular Democratic governor in America and is tied for the seventh most popular governor overall. The survey shows that six in 10 Kentucky voters approve of his job performance. It also shows that although half of Kentucky Republicans give Gov. Beshear negative marks, 46% of Republicans approve of his performance.

That popularity is going to be a target for Gov. Beshear's opponents.

"If the Republican candidates allow Beshear to settle into this image of competent governor that the voters like, they may never get serious consideration in a general election — except the people who are clearly their partisans," said Voss.

However, Gov. Beshear's high approval rating does not mean an easy victory for the governor.

Voss explains that a high approval rating will help him as he tries to keep his job, but it does not guarantee anything.

"Governor Beshear is a democrat running with an electorate that is in the habit of voting Republican," said Voss.

"Not everyone who approves of the Democratic governor necessarily will vote for him because they may approve of his opponent as well," he added.

The Morning Consult report also states that "positive perceptions of job performance do not always ensure victory."

"In Kentucky, Beshear indeed faces an uphill battle in a state that, despite its history of Democratic governors, has voted overwhelmingly Republican in federal races over the past two decades," the report said. "He flipped the seat in 2019 thanks in large part to former Republican Gov. Matt Bevin’s unpopularity, an advantage he will not likely have this fall as he faces a slate of potential Republican challengers, including state Attorney General Daniel Cameron, former U.S. ambassador to Canada and the United Nations Kelly Craft, and Agricultural Commissioner Ryan Quarles."

Voters are likely to use a simple two-step process to decide how they will vote, according to Voss.

"First they ask, do I want to change what I have? And then, the second step is to figure out whether they like the replacement," he said.

So, attack ads launched at Gov. Beshear will attempt to sway voters towards other options. Voss expects to see ads attempting to tie him to national Democrats.

"The negative ads against Beshear will certainly tie him to Joe Biden, to Vice President Harris, and other democratic figures with whom he possibly could be associated — to convince the voters that while he looks like a Kentucky Democrat, he's just another member of the Democratic party."