WASHINGTON (AP) — Kentucky Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear seeks a second term in the heavily Republican state on Tuesday in one of the most competitive and closely watched races on the ballot this year.
Beshear faces a challenge from GOP nominee Daniel Cameron, a Donald Trump endorsee who succeeded Beshear as state attorney general in 2019. Cameron hopes to reclaim the governorship on behalf of Republicans and hand his party complete control over lawmaking in the state.
Beshear, the son of former two-term Gov. Steve Beshear, is one of four Democratic governors leading a state Trump carried twice in his campaigns for president. That number will drop to three when Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards leaves office in January.
Kentucky elected Democratic governors for most of the 20th century and has had only two Republican governors in the last 50 years. But the state has nonetheless become increasingly conservative during that time, voting Republican in nine of the last 11 presidential elections and electing only Republicans to the U.S. Senate since 1998.
Despite Kentucky’s rightward shift, Beshear is a formidable candidate. He has had an overwhelming financial advantage throughout the campaign, outspending Cameron $16.7 million to $3.4 million as of Oct. 23.
In the last 20 years, the Kentucky governorship has changed hands between Democrats and Republicans four times. Cameron hopes to make it a fifth. If he does, the former aide to Kentucky’s longtime senior Sen. Mitch McConnell would become only the fourth African American in the nation’s history to be elected governor and the first Black Republican governor since Reconstruction. Gov. Wes Moore of Maryland is the only African American currently serving as the chief executive of a state.
Here’s a look at what to expect on election night:
The Kentucky general election will be held on Tuesday. Polls close at 6 p.m. local time, but Kentucky is spread out over two time zones. Most of the state, 79 counties, is in Eastern time, where polls close at 6 p.m. ET, but 41 counties are located in the Central time zone and close at 7 p.m. ET.
WHAT’S ON THE BALLOT?
The Associated Press will provide coverage for seven contests in Kentucky. The statewide races are for governor, attorney general, treasurer, secretary of state, agriculture commissioner and auditor. There is also a special election in the state’s House District 93.
WHO GETS TO VOTE?
All registered voters in Kentucky are eligible to vote in Tuesday’s general election. The deadline to register was Oct. 11. There is no Election Day registration in Kentucky.
Beshear was first elected in 2019, when he narrowly defeated Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, 49.2% to 48.8% — a margin of just over 5,000 votes. To win reelection, he will have to follow his 2019 playbook: run up the score in Democratic strongholds, win over Republican-leaning areas and minimize the damage in safe Republican areas.
Beshear outperformed Joe Biden in the only two counties Biden carried in the 2020 presidential contest against Trump: Fayette (home to Lexington) and Jefferson (home to Louisville). He also won Franklin County (home to the state capital, Frankfort), which Biden narrowly lost. Beshear flipped an additional 20 counties that voted for Trump in 2020, including nine counties where Trump received more than 70% of the vote.
If Beshear trails in swing counties like Kenton and Warren, the third and fifth most populous in the state where he edged out Bevin four years ago, his path to reelection will be much more difficult.
Another key metric will be Beshear’s performance in the counties he lost in 2019. Although he lost 97 of the state’s 120 counties, he performed better there than Democrats typically do, receiving 39.4% of the overall vote and adding to his statewide vote total. By comparison, Biden received 25.4% in the same counties in 2020.
The AP does not make projections and will declare a winner only when it’s determined there is no scenario that would allow the trailing candidates to close the gap. If a race has not been called, the AP will continue to cover any newsworthy developments, such as candidate concessions or declarations of victory. In doing so, the AP will make clear that it has not yet declared a winner and explain why.
Kentucky law requires an automatic recount in general elections if the margin between the top two candidates is 0.5% or less. For larger margins, the trailing candidate may petition the courts for a recount. The AP may declare a winner in a race that is eligible for a recount if it can determine the lead is too large for a recount or legal challenge to change the outcome.
WHAT DO TURNOUT AND ADVANCE VOTE LOOK LIKE?
As of Oct. 13, there were almost 3.5 million registered voters in Kentucky. Of those, 46% were Republicans and 44% were Democrats.
As of Oct. 30, almost 40,000 voters had cast ballots before Election Day, 57% by Democrats and 38% by Republicans. Of Democrats who voted before Election Day, 86% voted by mail and 14% voted early in person. For Republicans, it was 75% by mail and 25% in person.
Turnout for the 2019 general election was 44%. That year, only 4% of the vote was cast before Election Day. After the state adopted a new early, in-person voting measure in 2021, the share of ballots cast before Election Day in the 2022 congressional midterms jumped to 23%.
HOW LONG DOES VOTE COUNTING USUALLY TAKE?
Historically, Kentucky counts almost all votes on election night. In the 2022 general election, the AP first reported results in Kentucky at 6:09 p.m. ET, or nine minutes after polls closed in the Eastern time zone. The election night tabulation ended at 1:45 a.m. ET with about 94% of total votes counted. Vote counting extended into the next day in a handful of counties, although almost all votes were counted by that afternoon.