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County flips and statewide shifts: Here are the numbers behind Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear’s reelection victory

Beshear smiles at camera, standing at lectern surrounded by supporters
J. Tyler Franklin
/
LPM
Andy Beshear on Election Night 2023 after securing his second term as Kentucky governor.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear won a second term Tuesday by a comfortable margin, as the incumbent Democrat defeated Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron by roughly five percentage points and 67,174 votes.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear won a second term Tuesday by a comfortable margin, as the incumbent Democrat defeated Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron by roughly five percentage points and 67,174 votes.

Some expected Beshear would struggle to expand on his narrow 5,136 vote margin of victory from his 2019 race against former Gov. Matt Bevin – speculation fueled by a late poll suggesting he was in a dead heat with Cameron.

However, Beshear instead outperformed his first run for governor in most corners of the state to build up a much larger lead, while Cameron ended up with nearly 79,000 fewer votes than Bevin received in the last race for governor.

Here’s a detailed look at the numbers behind Beshear’s victory, including the areas where he performed the strongest, the lower-than-expected turnout that hamstrung Cameron and the lack of “coattails” for down-ballot Democratic candidates.

Beshear flips counties, surges in coal country

Beshear was able to flip a net of six more counties his way compared to the last time he ran, but his improvement from 2019 showed in three quarters of Kentucky counties, where the incumbent’s percentage of the vote shifted his way.

While Beshear won 23 counties in 2019, this time he won 29, flipping eight counties to his column, while losing only two he previously won: Hancock County in the west and Carter County in the east.

The counties Beshear flipped Tuesday including Letcher and Perry counties, two of the hardest-hit Appalachian counties from the deadly 2022 flooding. Beshear, who visited the counties often as part of their recovery effort, lost both by roughly eight percentage points in 2019, but won both this time by a comfortable margin.

Beshear also flipped central Kentucky’s Boyle, Bourbon, Clark and Nelson counties, as well as Daviess County in western Kentucky, the home of Owensboro.

Though he still lost most counties in 2023, Beshear was able to improve his percentage of the vote from 2019 in 91 counties, which were spread out in all regions of the state.

The seven counties where Beshear had the largest upward shift in his percentage of the vote – ranging from six to 12% – were all in eastern Kentucky coal country. In addition to Perry and Letcher, Beshear’s largest shifts were in Lee, Breathitt, Owsley, Leslie and Clay counties, all areas hit hard by the flooding and included in the federal disaster declaration.

Most of the counties where Cameron’s percentage of the vote shifted upward from that of Bevin in 2019 were clumped together in two areas, including nine counties running along the Tennessee border and eight contiguous northeastern counties near West Virginia.

West, north, central and urban come through for Beshear

Beshear’s overperformance compared to his last run took place in every region, including very rural counties, but the biggest shift in vote margin took place in Kentucky’s largest counties, Jefferson and Fayette.

In 2019, Beshear won the two counties in a blowout with roughly two-thirds of the vote, running up massive vote margins of 98,821 in Jefferson County and 36,482 in Fayette County.

This time, Beshear ran up the score even more, winning the urban centers of Louisville and Lexington – the home of 25% of Kentucky’s registered voters – with more than 70% of the vote. He won by 102,946 votes this time in Jefferson, while he improved his margin even more in Fayette, winning by 8,577 more votes than he did in 2019.

Another big shift this time around for Beshear occurred in Campbell, Kenton and Boone counties – three populous northern Kentucky counties south of Cincinnati that house nearly 10% of the state’s registered voters and are typically considered a Republican stronghold.

Beshear built on his surprise victories in Kenton and Campbell counties in 2019 by winning them again Tuesday by larger margins, while also significantly reducing his margin of defeat in Boone County.

The shift in the region is apparent when comparing Tuesday’s results with the past two governor elections. In 2015, Bevin beat Democrat Jack Conway by 16,543 votes and 22 percentage points in the three counties, and Bevin won the counties by 3,745 votes in 2019. This time, Beshear beat Cameron in the region by 555 votes.

In western Kentucky, Beshear won Warren and Henderson counties for a second consecutive election, this time by wider margins, while also putting Daviess County in the win column.

Even though he didn’t win any counties in far west Kentucky, Beshear still showed significant improvement from 2019 there. Caldwell and Hopkins were two counties where the vote shifted more than 5% towards Beshear, and were also where some of the most deadly tornado damage struck the region in late 2021 – with the governor also visiting the area often to promote the recovery effort from the twin natural disasters of his first term.

In addition to flipping four more counties to his column Tuesday in central Kentucky, he also improved his margin of victory by more than 1,000 votes in six other counties in the region, including Hardin County. This county is not only the hometown of Cameron, but also the upcoming site of massive electric vehicle battery plants, regularly touted by Beshear as the largest economic development project investment in Kentucky history.

Bevin won Hardin County by nearly 1,500 votes in 2019, but Cameron was only able to edge Beshear by 175 votes on Tuesday.

Low turnout dooms Cameron

While Secretary of State Michael Adams predicted Kentucky would have 45% turnout this year, initial results show less than 38% of registered voters cast a ballot in the race for governor – a drop of at least four percentage points from 2019.

The number of people voting for governor in 2023 was 123,557 fewer than Kentucky’s last election for governor, with only three of Kentucky’s 120 counties seeing the total number of voters increase from 2019.

This drop in turnout appeared to hurt Cameron more than Bevin.

While Beshear’s 693,370 votes in this year’s election was 16,520 fewer than what he won in 2019, Cameron’s 626,196 votes was a dramatic fall from what Bevin picked up in the last race, a decline of 78,558 votes. Cameron won fewer votes than Bevin in all but nine counties.

Exact turnout numbers for how many registered Democrats and Republicans voted will not be available until later this month.

No Beshear coattails for down-ballot Democrats. Again.

Just like in 2019, Beshear’s win at the top of the ticket did not equal success for the five other Democrats on the ballot running for statewide constitutional offices.

Even with Beshear expanding his margin of victory to five percentage points, down-ballot Democrats still ran far behind the party’s leader, each losing by 14 to 22 percentage points – an outcome similar to all but one of the Democratic candidates in 2019.

Michael Bowman, the Democratic treasurer candidate who picked up the most votes among his party’s non-Beshear candidates, picked up 548,641 votes – roughly 145,000 fewer than the governor.

However, there may have been one candidate to pick up some coattails from Beshear, only he belongs to a different party.

Secretary of State Adams won 783,682 votes, the most of any Republican candidate on the ballot and a roughly 37,000 vote increase from his last run in 2019.

Two of the final TV ads from Adams in his campaign prominently featured Beshear praising him, touting the secretary of state as someone who could cross party lines to make good bipartisan public policy on voting.

Justin Hicks contributed to this story.

Joe is the enterprise statehouse reporter for Kentucky Public Radio, a collaboration including Louisville Public Media, WEKU-Lexington, WKU Public Radio and WKMS-Murray. Email Joe at jsonka@lpm.org.
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