Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear of Kentucky has won re-election, defying the usual political leanings of the red state, NBC News projects.

Beshear defeated GOP state Attorney General Daniel Cameron in an expensive and hard-fought race.

Beshear’s re-election in a state President Joe Biden lost by 26 percentage points in 2020 was due in part to the unique brand he has built in Kentucky, separate from the national party. But the victory is still a welcome sign for Democrats ahead of next year’s presidential race, with recent governor’s elections in Kentucky having previewed presidential victories to come.

In his bid for a second term, Beshear leveraged the popularity he built over the last four years, touting the state’s economic progress and his response to natural disasters, including devastating floods.

“My opponent’s campaign is built on attacks and lies. But you know me, and you know it isn’t true. We’ve been through a lot together, and now we’re building the commonwealth we’ve always dreamed of,” Beshear said directly into the camera in one of his campaign’s closing TV ads.

Beshear and his Democratic allies swamped Republicans on the airwaves, spending around $47 million on ads after the May primary, to Republicans’ $29 million, according to the ad-tracking firm AdImpact. The candidates’ disparity was especially stark, with Beshear’s campaign spending around $24 million on ads — almost five times more than Cameron’s campaign.

Cameron drained his campaign coffers to win the GOP primary in May, giving Beshear a financial advantage from the start. Beshear and his allies touted his economic record in ads. And in the race’s closing stretch, they focused attacks against Cameron specifically on health care, education and abortion.

Kentucky has a near-total ban on abortion, which took effect last year after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and eliminated federal protection for the right to an abortion. An ad from the Beshear campaign featured a young woman whose stepfather raped her when she was 12 years old.

“Anyone who believes there should be no exceptions for rape and incest could never understand what it’s like to stand in my shoes,” the woman said in the ad. “This is to you, Daniel Cameron: To tell a 12-year-old girl she must have the baby of her stepfather who raped her is unthinkable.”

After having defended the state’s abortion ban as attorney general, Cameron did say he would sign a bill adding exceptions for rape and incest if the Legislature passed such a measure. 

Meanwhile, Cameron and his allies tried to nationalize the race, hoping to win over former President Donald Trump’s supporters who had previously backed Beshear.

Cameron launched a TV ad touting his endorsement from Trump. And Republicans tried to tie Beshear to the national Democratic Party, initially by focusing on his stances on social issues such as gender-affirming care for transgender youths and later by linking him directly to Biden in campaign ads.

Beshear countered that he was focused on issues facing the state.

“Do you want an overly partisan governor that will just play the national politics game?” Beshear said in the election’s final debate on WKYT-TV of Lexington. “Tonight [Cameron]’s trying to convince you that this is a race for the presidency and not for the governor of Kentucky.”

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