(Adds calendar of gubernatorial elections and fixes a typo in the 15th paragraph.)
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Kentucky is about to test whether a familiar name and personal popularity can help a red-state Democrat fend off a challenge from a Republican backed by Donald Trump and home-state Sen. Mitch McConnell.
Gov. Andy Beshear (D), who easily defeated two challengers to win renomination Tuesday, will face his pandemic nemesis, state Attorney General Daniel Cameron, in the general election.
Cameron, a prominent face of resistance to mandatory vaccination and other health orders during the height of the pandemic, won the Republican gubernatorial nomination, pulling about 47% of the vote.
Formerly a top aide to McConnell (R-Ky.), he overcame a 12-candidate field, aided by Trump’s endorsement.
The general election will test what issues drive turnout ahead of next year’s presidential election and reveal the extent to which voters respond when reminded of their Covid grievances long after the end of social distancing and mask mandates.
Advertisements emphasized Cameron’s legal challenges to pandemic restrictions.
“Cameron entered the race with much more name recognition than any of his opponents thanks to his high-profile battles with Governor Beshear from his post as attorney general,” said Stephen Voss, associate professor of political science at the University of Kentucky.
If he defeats Beshear in November, he’ll become the first Black governor of Kentucky and the first elected Black Republican governor in the country, said Jessica Taylor, Senate and governors editor at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report With Amy Walter. “Cameron had a brand before this race started” she said.
Beshear also has a brand and a history with voters. His father, Steve Beshear, also served as governor, and a Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy survey earlier this year gave the incumbent a 61% job approval rating — higher than any other Democratic governor, even those in blue states.
Breonna Taylor Case
Cameron, the state’s first Black attorney general, drew national attention for his investigation of the death of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman killed by police in a no-knock raid on her apartment. He had recommended that no homicide charges be brought against the officers.
Taylor’s death sparked protests in the summer of 2020. The Justice Department brought federal charges in the case and investigated policing in Louisville, Ky., concluding that there was a pattern of unlawful and discriminatory conduct that US Attorney General Merrick Garland called heartbreaking.
“Democrats will try to drive a wedge between Cameron and Black voters by using the Breonna Taylor controversy,” predicted Voss.
Kentucky’s contest is one of three gubernatorial elections this year along with races in Mississippi and Louisiana. Cook and Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball both rank the general election as leaning Democratic.
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To contact the reporter on this story: Maura Kelly Lannan in Washington, D.C.