In a squeaker of a race, voters on Tuesday narrowly chose Democrat Andy Beshear, son of two-term Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear, as Kentucky's next attorney general.
Andy Beshear, a 37-year-old corporate attorney at Stites & Harbison in Louisville, beat Republican Whitney Westerfield of Hopkinsville by about 2,000 votes out of about 958,000 votes cast.
"As you can tell, this has been a pretty hard-fought campaign," Beshear said in his acceptance speech shortly before 10 p.m. "We're here pretty late tonight."
This was the most hotly contested of the down-ballot contests. As of Oct. 19, both candidates and two outside committees reported spending a total of $5.52 million in the race, with the cash advantage skewing toward Beshear. The money bought a barrage of negative advertising on television that quickly resorted to personal attacks.
In their ads, Republicans said Beshear was an inexperienced dilettante who would do the bidding of Democratic President Barack Obama — an unpopular figure in Kentucky — and Beshear's "special interest" campaign donors. Democrats called Westerfield incompetent. One ad showed an actor in a bathrobe with cucumber slices on his eyes, enjoying a day at the spa rather than prosecuting criminals — supposedly Westerfield, who was an assistant commonwealth's attorney in Christian County before joining the state Senate in 2013.
Don Dugi, a political scientist at Transylvania University, said the digital deluge never explained to his satisfaction which candidate would be a better attorney general.
"Beshear was running attack ads from the get-go," Dugi said. "Westerfield was up there without a necktie, talking about how experience matters and trying to diffuse the attack ads by talking about some bipartisan bills he passed in the Senate. But I'm not sure that it was very effective in the end."
Beshear came to the race with several advantages that Westerfield did not have.
He learned politics as a youth while his father served as Kentucky's attorney general and lieutenant governor and ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate. (A great-uncle, Fred Beshear, sat in the Kentucky House during the mid-20th century.) When he decided to run for attorney general himself, Andy Beshear tapped into his father's mighty fundraising network of state political appointees, state contractors, Frankfort lobbyists and executives from state-regulated corporations, such as banks, health care firms, insurance companies and utilities.
By mid-October, Andy Beshear reported raising nearly $2.7 million — a jaw-dropping sum for a down-ballot race, more than Matt Bevin, the Republican nominee for governor, achieved. Westerfield, the GOP nominee for attorney general, raised $151,032.
In interviews, Beshear said he is his own man, adding that none of his clients or campaign donors would get favors from him as attorney general.
"No contribution that we've received, no matter how big or small, will result in any favoritism, in any special treatment whatsoever, period," he told the Herald-Leader recently. "That's the job, and those were the type of values that I was raised on and that I'm raising my kids with, of honesty and integrity. Listen, when you are the attorney general, you are the people's lawyer. Your one and only client are the people of Kentucky, and every single decision we make is gonna be based on the law and what's best for Kentucky families."
During his campaign, Andy Beshear proposed addressing the state's heroin problem by funding more treatment beds — he didn't say where the money would come from — and encouraging the legislature to toughen penalties for drug dealers, beyond what lawmakers did in last winter's heroin bill. He also said he would reorganize the attorney general's office to create new divisions focused on protecting Kentucky's children and the elderly from abuse and scams.