Cameron tries to energize growing GOP base in challenging Democratic incumbent in Kentucky

LONDON, Ky. (AP) — Looking to energize his party's growing base, Republican Daniel Cameron picked apart Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear's record Tuesday in Kentucky's hotly contested gubernatorial campaign.

Cameron took aim at the incumbent's veto of transgender bills and handling of the pandemic while linking Beshear to the nation's top Democrat in the White House.

Campaigning in the heart of Republican territory, Cameron made a direct appeal to teachers, vowing to support an education system that stresses basics. He's attempting to reclaim ground his party lost with teachers — whose voting clout helped vault Beshear into the governor's office four years ago. Beshear says he has pursued an education-first agenda and is vowing to push for big pay raises for teachers and other public school personnel if he wins a second term.

Beshear and Cameron, one-time law firm colleagues, are making closing arguments to voters ahead of Election Day next Tuesday. Starting this Thursday, polling places open for three days of early voting in one of the nation's most closely watched off-year elections.

Cameron, the state's attorney general, spent most of his speech ripping into the incumbent's record as he tries to persuade Kentuckians to make a change at the top of state government.

“I think the scariest thing would be giving Andy Beshear four more years in office,” Cameron said in his Halloween speech to a midday crowd at a warehouse in London, Kentucky.

Cameron criticized the governor for vetoing a pair of transgender bills, trying to keep the heat on the governor on a social issue that conservatives across the country have emphasized.

Beshear vetoed a sweeping transgender bill this year that banned gender-affirming care for young transgender people. Last year, he vetoed a measure prohibiting transgender girls and women from participating in school sports matching their gender identity. Both vetoes were overridden by the Republican-dominated legislature.

“When I am governor we are going to protect women’s sports from biological males and we are going to protect our kids from these transgender surgeries,” Cameron said.

Beshear has accused his Republican challenger of trying to stoke divisions with his emphasis on transgender issues. Beshear invokes his Christian faith and support for parental rights to counter the criticism he’s faced since vetoing the bill banning gender-affirming care. "I believe that all children are children of God,” the governor said earlier in the campaign.

Cameron kept up criticism of the governor’s pandemic restrictions, which he says hurt small businesses and led to much learning loss when schools were closed. Beshear says his actions saved lives and followed guidance from former Republican President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force. The virus has killed more than 19,000 Kentuckians since 2020.

Cameron also continued injecting national politics into the campaign, bidding to link Beshear to Democratic President Joe Biden. Biden was trounced by Trump in Kentucky’s 2020 presidential ballot. Cameron has repeatedly blasted Biden's economic and energy policies in trying to undercut Beshear.

“We will not accept in our governor’s mansion anymore someone who has emboldened Joe Biden,” Cameron said.

Beshear has ridiculed his challenger's campaign tactic, a well-used one in red states like Kentucky.

“My opponent wants to nationalize this race because he knows he can’t win if it’s me vs. him," Beshear said while campaigning Monday. "This is, in the end, Andy Beshear vs. Daniel Cameron — about who your chief executive is and not about the presidential race next year.”

Biden came to Kentucky during two of the state's worst-ever natural disasters, surveying tornado damage in western Kentucky and flood damage in the east.

Cameron campaigned Tuesday with other GOP candidates running for statewide offices in next Tuesday's election. And he received a boost from longtime Republican U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers.

"We have the chance here, if you elect this man, of restoring conservative government in Frankfort,” Rogers said of Cameron.

Republicans need a strong turnout in the region that includes London, which was the heart of GOP territory long before it became the state's dominant political party. Republicans surpassed Democrats in statewide voter registration last year, reflecting the GOP's electoral dominance. The GOP holds both U.S. Senate seats, five of six congressional seats and have overwhelming majorities in the state legislature.

Meanwhile, Cameron called for unified support for public education in his pitch to teachers, saying that "means our kids will be in the best position to succeed.” Cameron has tried to separate himself from the last GOP governor, Matt Bevin, who feuded with educators in a policy fight over pensions.

Beshear has tried to connect his challenger to school vouchers in trying to undercut Cameron. As attorney general, Cameron's office defended a measure to award tax credits for donations supporting private school tuition. Kentucky’s Supreme Court struck down the legislation.

Cameron kept his focus on education in his closing remarks to the crowd.

“It’s about making sure that our kids, our grandkids can say that 10, 20, 30 years from now, that this commonwealth is a shining city on a hill, a model and an example for the rest of the nation to follow,” Cameron said.