We can finally check out the most unusual plays, secret ploys and rarest stratagems of our 2023 election campaign.
Some worked – big-time. Others flopped or just fell flat. But this off-year election – which hit in the middle of today’s politics of hate – may have just taught us something so basic that most of the politicos, their high-priced plotters, and your favorite talking head pundits haven’t even thought of it. Yet.
Here we go. It is Election Night in Louisville. On the stage, Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat in famously Republican Kentucky, has just learned that he isn’t going to be a one-term wonder, after all. He has thanked and hugged his parents, his wife, son and daughter. He has choked up, just a bit.
But then he looked into the audience and thanked a “Hadley.” That of course bewildered the nation’s cable news viewers, but Kentucky’s viewers all understood. After all, Hadley Duvall, 21, had been with Kentuckians in their living rooms all autumn, talking to them quietly, yet unforgettably, via their news screens.
She had looked them in the eye as she spoke to their hearts:
“I was raped by my stepfather after years of sexual abuse. I was 12. Anyone who believes there should be no exceptions for rape and incest could never understand what it’s like to stand in my shoes.”
In that startling television campaign advertisement, she was talking to all Kentuckians but mainly directing her words at just one person – the very popular, very conservative Republican gubernatorial candidate who was opposing all abortions, even in cases of rape and incest. So, in the ad she made for Beshear’s campaign, she made sure she spoke the opponent’s name:
“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. I’m speaking out because women and girls need to have options. Daniel Cameron would give us none.”
Now Cameron will be in no position where he can force a 12-year-old girl to give birth to her father’s child. In Republican Ohio, where a 10-year-old girl was raped and had to flee the state to get her abortion in Indiana, voters were approving constitutional abortion rights. And in Virginia, voters stingingly rejected Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s high hopes of flipping the narrowly Democratic state Senate while retaining control of the state General Assembly.
And — here comes that little-noticed ploy we mentioned at the outset — Virginia’s governor also had a conveniently timed electoral sweetener to serve his constituents. Just two weeks before Election Day, Virginia voters began getting what appeared to be checks from their governor in their mailboxes. As much as $200 per qualified individual taxpayers; $400 for couples filing jointly. Yet the explanation note mentioned just one name: “You are receiving this rebate because Governor Glenn Youngkin recently signed a bill passed by the 2023 Virginia General Assembly …”
Virginians cashed their checks. And then voted their strong abortion rights convictions. They gave Democrats control of both legislative chambers.
And this gets us to that third concept — that this was an odd sort of off-year election that just may have signaled that some of America’s oldest political principles may not be extinct, after all. If you know where to look.
For this we need to go back to Kentucky. Way back during Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty,” a kid reporter with Newsday went to rural Whitesburg, Kentucky, to see what was really important to people at that far end of the federal funnel. There he met some folks who mainly loved their autumn mountain lifestyle. And they didn’t care much for feds who kept coming around to see if they wanted Washington money with lots of strings attached.
So, this week, I looked to see what The Mountain Eagle, Whitesburg’s newspaper, wrote in its gubernatorial endorsement. After all, they’re in the heart of Letcher County, where Donald Trump won 79.1% of the vote against Joe Biden in 2020. Here’s part of what The Mountain Eagle wrote:
“If your neighbor brings you fresh vegetables from the garden, do you think of them as a no-good? What if they offer to help paint your house? Fix your roof?
“If your neighbor pulled you from your flooding house and got you to safety, is that a bad person? Most of us would say no.
“… Governor Andy Beshear … has tried and continues to try to pull Letcher County and the rest of eastern Kentucky out of the 2022 flood…
“Our current staff has been through more governors than you have fingers on your two hands. None stacks up to Andy Beshear. …
“Beshear has been a good neighbor. Now it’s our turn.”
Good Neighbor Andy won by about 9 points in that mega-MAGA Trump Country county. So good neighbor politics hasn’t quite been trumped in America, after all. Who knew?
Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Readers may send him email at [email protected]. Send comments to [email protected].