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Beshear and Cameron face off in first debate of governor's race

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Posted at 6:09 PM, Oct 12, 2023

PADUCAH, Ky. (LEX 18) — Gov. Andy Beshear and Attorney General Daniel Cameron faced off in the first debate of the governor's race on Thursday in Paducah.

The Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce hosted the event and emphasized a focus on business and economic development. But the debate turned into the candidates arguing that the other is out of touch with reality.

Cameron went after Beshear's record and loyalty to the national Democratic Party. He argued Beshear's ties to President Joe Biden make him out of step with Kentucky values.

"I think this is a race about crazy versus normal," said Cameron. "I think it’s crazy to have a governor who endorses Joe Biden for president. I think it’s crazy to have a governor who refuses to protect women’s sports from biological males, and I think it’s crazy to have a governor who puts criminals back on our streets to prey in our communities."

Beshear argued Cameron is too divisive for Kentucky, arguing that the Republican nominee looks at everything through an overly partisan lens.

"I believe that we as Kentuckians have more that unite us than the issues of Washington DC can ever tear us apart," said Beshear. "And I don’t remember a clearer race about somebody talking about Kentucky and Kentucky first and somebody trying to talk about DC that much. If this candidate is so worried about DC, he should’ve run for U.S. Senator. But here we are - having a clear choice about who loves this Commonwealth."

Cameron continued to try linking Beshear to Biden while denouncing the Democratic president for his handling of the economy and for his energy policies.

"I talk about Andy Beshear and Joe Biden because Andy Beshear refuses to stand up to this president who tried to force vaccine mandates on your state, who’s trying to destroy the fossil fuels industry. It’s important to have leadership that’s going to represent your values but also stand up to the nonsense that’s coming out of Washington,"

As the attack continued, Beshear joked: “Well everybody, if you had Joe Biden or the far-left on your bingo card today, congratulations, you just won.”

“The reason that you hear that is to create fear,” Beshear said. “This attorney general knows that if this race is about me versus him, that you know who I am and how I’ve led and how I’ve shown up every day.”

Beshear and Cameron fielded questions on the economy, taxes, education and transportation issues, but the conversation often turned to Cameron’s efforts to nationalize the statewide race — a well-worn Republican strategy in red states.

The candidates stuck to their often-used campaign pitches during the hour-long event. Beshear offered an upbeat assessment of the state while Cameron pounded away at the governor’s record.

Beshear pointed to his role in leading recovery efforts in tornado- and flood-stricken parts of Kentucky. Mayfield, about a half-hour away from Paducah, took a direct hit from a tornado in late 2021.

The governor also touted the state’s record-high economic development growth and record-low unemployment rates during his term, building on a theme he has made a cornerstone of his reelection bid. He vowed that the fast pace of new economic projects would continue if he wins a second term.

“We are on an economic win streak the likes of which we have never seen, with a true opportunity to turn our brain drain into a brain gain and to leave a legacy of more opportunity for our kids and grandkids than we ever thought was possible,” he said.

Cameron pointed at restrictions the governor placed on businesses and others during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Virus-related school closures led to significant learning loss among many Kentucky students, Cameron said. Beshear says his actions saved lives and mirrored those in other states, reflecting guidance from then-President Donald Trump’s administration.

Cameron vowed to keep Kentucky on course toward eliminating its individual income tax.

“The difference between me and Andy Beshear is that he thinks government is in the best position to utilize your money,” Cameron said. “I think you are in the best position to make choices about how to spend your money.”

Beshear signed a bill this year that was another step toward phasing out the income tax. The Republican-led legislature revamped the state’s tax code last year to gradually phase out individual income taxes while extending the state sales tax to more services. The governor said again Thursday that he vetoed the original bill last year because of those sales tax provisions.

Cameron also reaffirmed his support for requiring some able-bodied adults to work in exchange for health coverage through Medicaid. It’s become one of the campaign’s starkest policy differences. Beshear halted an attempt by the state’s previous GOP governor, Matt Bevin, to create a Medicaid work requirement that Beshear says would have stripped coverage from about 100,000 Kentuckians. Cameron said the work requirement would bolster the state’s workforce participation.

Meanwhile, Cameron accused Beshear of failing on core issues most important to families while trying to take credit for accomplishments related to actions by the Republican legislature.

“On issue after issue, whether it is education, whether it is crime, whether it is protecting the family unit, he has put his head in the sand,” Cameron said.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.