Democrat Steve Beshear trounced Republican David Williams and independent Gatewood Galbraith on Tuesday to win his second four-year term as Kentucky's governor.
Beshear, who made an unlikely political comeback in 2007 after losing a bid for governor in 1987, rolled to victory touting his job-creation efforts and his handling of the state budget during tight economic times.
At a celebration in Frankfort's Civic Center with his running mate, former Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson, Beshear never mentioned his opponents by name but made several references to Williams.
As president of the state Senate, Williams has blocked several Beshear initiatives and in the last week of the campaign made an issue of Beshear's participation in a Hindu "ground blessing" ceremony for a new Indian manufacturing plant in Elizabethtown.
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"Too often, rank partisanship has stood in the way of moving Kentucky forward," Beshear said. "That's why in this election I asked the voters to send a strong message — a message of rejecting the politics of obstruction, the politics of division and the politics of religious intolerance.
"And today they have sent that message in the strongest possible terms."
Beshear, who made few campaign promises in 2011, promised a "lean and efficient" government in the next four years.
Williams, who was at Lexington's Marriott Griffin Gate Resort & Spa, with his running mate, state Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer, said shortly before 9 p.m. that he and Beshear would meet after a few days of rest.
"We are going to try to find common ground," he said.
Williams said he would report to work Wednesday as president of the Senate, a job he has held since 2000.
Williams said he told Senate Republicans they "were getting a new and improved David Williams."
"I feel I'm a better man because of this experience and I want to work with all the folks who are willing to work with us to make sure we have a better Kentucky," Williams said.
State Senate Majority Leader Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said on Kentucky Educational Television on Tuesday night that Williams would complete his current term as Senate president. It runs through January 2013.
Galbraith, a Lexington attorney making his fifth unsuccessful bid for governor, said Beshear won "simply because of the money. No doubt about it. There just is no way to control the influence of money in a race for governor of Kentucky."
Beshear had more than $10 million in his campaign war chest. Williams' campaign took in about $2 million but relied on almost $4 million in contributions that his father-in-law, Russell County businessman Terry Stephens, made to outside political groups that ran ads critical of Beshear and complimentary of Williams. Galbraith and his running mate, Frankfort marketing consultant Dea Riley, raised less than $200,000.
Beshear had the great advantage of incumbency that helps with fund-raising, said Transylvania University political science professor Don Dugi.
Dugi also said Beshear had a record of "damage control" as governor during tumultuous economic times.
"Kentucky has fared better than other states, and I think the public looked favorably at Beshear for that," Dugi said.
Another reason for the Beshear victory, Dugi said, is "Williams himself."
"A good part of Williams' political history has been as an obstructionist. People see him as that, and that was very difficult for him to overcome," Dugi said.
Ted Jackson, a Republican strategist from Louisville, said the race boiled down to one fact: "People do not like David."
In Jackson's opinion, Williams was not the right candidate to run against Beshear, who has avoided any major scandals since taking office. Williams' weakness was evident after he failed to get 50 percent of the vote in the May primary, when he faced two little-known candidates, Jackson said.
Although Beshear might view Tuesday's election results as a mandate for his agenda, it's really not, Jackson said.
"His numbers are inflated," Jackson said, "because David's numbers are so low."
Western Kentucky University political science professor Scott Lasley attributed Beshear's win to his "safe approach in governing" and Williams' problems.
"Beshear has governed with re-election in mind. You can debate whether that is good for the state or not but it certainly was good for him," Lasley said.
Despite Beshear's wide margin of victory, the election was not a rejection of the state Republican Party, said state Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington.
Williams simply was "a man who had been unfairly painted for years, and he was unable to overcome that," Lee said. "I don't think it's a repudiation of the Republican Party. I don't think it's a repudiation of Republican policies."
Beshear's victory was one of the biggest in recent races for governor. He won every precinct in Fayette County and more than 90 of Kentucky's 120 counties. Williams' only stronghold was in southern Kentucky.
In 1999, Democratic incumbent Paul Patton outdistanced Republican Peppy Martin, 60.6 percent to 22.2 percent.
In that race, Galbraith, who ran as a Reform candidate, captured 15.3 percent of the vote, his best showing in his five bids for governor.
Williams, a Burkesville attorney, was unable to find an issue that troubled Beshear, who was lieutenant governor and attorney general in the 1980s.
Williams tried to link Beshear with President Barack Obama, who is highly unpopular in Kentucky, and claimed that Beshear had no agenda, but the message did not stick.
Political observers said the candidates' running mates had little effect on the race.
Williams was counting on his running mate, a former University of Kentucky basketball star, to generate widespread excitement in the campaign.
But Farmer was damaged politically by news reports of questionable spending in his office and when his wife of 13 years filed for divorce in April.
Farmer told supporters Tuesday night that this year has been "a long, hard road."
"I'll be around for a while," he said without specifying what he would be doing.
The inauguration for Beshear and Abramson will be Dec. 13. Abramson will become the top-ranking Jewish officeholder in Kentucky history.