Television ads, news coverage, text messages, radio spots, social media, mail.
These modes of communication are part of most Kentuckians’ daily lives. But in politics, particularly in the lead-up to the state’s most expensive gubernatorial election, they’re theaters of war -- delivered by the US Postal Service.
In the race between Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear and Republican challenger Attorney General Daniel Cameron, the difference in how the two sides approach that “war” is especially apparent in voters’ mailboxes.
The endorsement of former Republican president Donald Trump is front and center in mail supporting Cameron, while mail against Cameron digs in on his stances on women’s issues and education.
Beshear, on the other hand, has a particularly localized set of messages supporting him. The mail against him tries hard to connect him to Democratic President Joe Biden and cut him down on conservative social issues of the day.
The results offer insight into what each side thinks the best message is for their own candidate and against the other guy.
Several of mail pieces from the Republican Party of Kentucky, as well as other outside groups, have reinforced a long-standing strategy from several state conservatives: How can we connect Beshear to Biden?
In one mailer, Beshear is called “Joe Biden’s puppet,” in the style of Pixar movie “Toy Store.” The hand of an older man, meant to invoke Biden, is seen hovering over a toy splayed out on the ground; the toy is movie protagonist Woody, with Beshear’s face photoshopped as the main character. The name “Biden” is scrawled on the bottom of the toy’s boot.
A piece of writing on the mailer shows how even a specific state action of Beshear’s, such as his veto of the major tax cut bill in 2022, is is filtered through the Biden lens.
“Joe Biden has bankrolled Andy Beshear to the tune of a quarter million dollars… Beshear even vetoed a major tax cut as Biden’s inflation was crushing Kentucky families,” the mailer reads.
That’s a reference to Democratic President Joe Biden “bankrolling” Beshear comes from a $250,000 contribution the Biden Victory Fund — a joint fundraising committee between Biden, the Democratic National Convention and all state Democratic parties — made to the Kentucky Democratic Party.
An oversize check documenting the transaction takes up half the space on one mailer: “Joe Biden and National Democrats are trying to buy this election. Your vote is the only thing that can stop them.”
Another mailer features Beshear kneeling and pleading before a crowned and caped “King” Biden.
“Beshear bows to Biden’s demands,” the mailer pronounces in medieval font.
The other front on which Beshear is getting attacked via mail is social issues.
In a voter guide published and distributed by the Commonwealth Policy PAC, the political arm of social conservative group Commonwealth Policy Center, Beshear’s stances on LGBTQ issues were highlighted. Though no candidate is endorsed in the mailer, the Christian conservative group clearly contrasts Cameron to Beshear in ways that would appeal to conservatives – going beyond just social issues to mention taxes and Medicaid work requirements as well.
Another from the Republican Party of Kentucky hyperbolizes the issue of transgender girls in girls sports and misleads
“Andy Beshear’s agenda means she’s competing against him,” the mailer reads, pointing to a little girl with kid goggles and a muscular young man. The piece is misleading, as the man has ostensibly undergone no kind of gender transition.
Beshear vetoed a ban on transgender girls participating in girls sports, but there was already a policy in place mandating that trans students could only participate if they had legally reassigned their gender and undergone a certain amount of physical change.
Some Kentucky voters got an otherwise nondescript envelope with one big difference in their mailboxes. In bold letters on the front, the envelope reads “CONFIDENTIAL MEDICAL RECORDS.”
Inside, a sheet of paper displays a mock medical record.
“These are not your actual medical records, but Daniel Cameron would force women to give theirs to him,” the sheet reads,
It’s a reference to Cameron signing onto a letter that opposed a federal rule that blocked states from seeking the medical records of women who seek abortions in other states.
The mailer is one of several that blast Cameron’s stance on abortion – the attorney general has offended the state’s trigger ban on abortion – which Democrats have hammered as too draconian.
Others hit the attorney general on how he’d handle schools as governor, with an emphasis on school choice initiatives. It references the recent Republican-led push to create a program providing sizable tax credits to donors to a tuition assistance program for students to attend private schools as “vouchers” and “school cuts.”
“The Cameron anti-education agenda: Take money from public schools to fund private schools, using your tax dollars to do it,” the mailer reads.
In one mailer from the Center for Voter Information, a left-leaning group, Cameron is cast as someone who wants to “prevent teachers from teaching history” given his support for tamping down perceived teaching of Critical Race Theory in Kentucky classrooms.
Groups supporting Beshear have focused their mail messaging on his appeal to conservative voters as well as regionalization, working to associate good news in voters’ backyards with the governor.
One mailer sent to an Eastern Kentucky home features an aerial view of work being done on the Mountain Parkway, a key traffic vein in the region that’s currently being improved.
“We are four-laning the Mountain Parkway because better roads mean better jobs for Eastern Kentucky,” a Beshear quote superimposed on the photo reads.
On the other side, there’s a list of various accomplishments with references to flood recovery, signing an income tax cut bill and record-low unemployment throughout the state.
However, Beshear vetoed a bill initiating the state income tax cuts and unemployment in Eastern Kentucky remains much higher than other regions of the state.
Another Beshear mailer, from the Democratic Governors Association-backed Defending Bluegrass Values, hews to traditional, conservative-coded “Kentucky values” to promote Beshear, citing family, tradition, hard work and faith.
It also touts Beshear’s work with Republicans, a point that GOP legislators have pushed back on repeatedly.
“Andy Beshear embodies the spirit of Kentucky. That’s why he works with Republicans to do what’s right for us,” the mailer reads.
That mailer also credits Beshear with lowering the income tax in a way that lacks context given that the effort has been led by Republicans in the legislature.
Mail pieces in support of Cameron have typically focused on his Trump endorsement.
A picture of Trump next to Cameron at a rally is featured on the other side of a mailer that links Beshear to Biden. It echoes Trump’s “America First” messaging, which Beshear has also tried to capitalize on.
“Your vote for Daniel Cameron will put Kentucky first,” it reads.
Another mailer invokes the endorsement words of Trump, who, based on polling, is still quite popular in Kentucky where he handily won general election contests in 2016 and 2020.
“At every level, Daniel has stood out. He will be the greatest governor of Kentucky, and has my complete and total endorsement!”
It also contains brief mentions of policy initiatives that Cameron supports: Cutting the income tax to zero, “incentiv(izing) WORK over Welfare,” and putting more criminals in jail.