Gov. Andy Beshear is a rising Democratic star. He has new PAC to prove it

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Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear is a rising national Democratic star, and he has a new group to prove it.

Beshear is launching "In This Together," a federal political action committee that will endorse and raise money on behalf of candidates across the country in the 2024 election cycle, USA TODAY/The Courier Journal has learned.

Establishing the PAC signals Beshear is ready to take a larger role in the party outside the Bluegrass State after an impressive reelection win in November, which withstood attacks from former President Donald Trump and his allies while overcoming President Joe Biden's unpopularity.

In an exclusive interview Sunday, Beshear said that his campaign last year demonstrated how Democrats can resist the uglier turn U.S. politics has taken as of late and that his new group hopes to expand on that strategy.

"This PAC is about supporting candidates, especially in tough states — red or purple states — that are willing to get out there that are running for the right reasons and that push back against this national trend of anger politics and division," he said.

Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear stood at attention during the Pledge of Allegiance in the Capitol rotunda on the first day of the 2024 Kentucky General Assembly in Frankfort, Ky. Jan. 2, 2024
Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear stood at attention during the Pledge of Allegiance in the Capitol rotunda on the first day of the 2024 Kentucky General Assembly in Frankfort, Ky. Jan. 2, 2024

Polling consistently shows voters are not in love with the idea of Biden-Trump rematch this fall with some expressing the desire to pick from crop of younger leaders.

Beshear, who won in conservative-leaning Kentucky by roughly 5% last year, emphasized that it's critical for "good people" to run, whether in his home state or around the country.

The group will stay out of the White House race, he said. But it plans on assisting Democratic candidates who "might be overlooked" and are running in close contests for local, statewide and federal office, Beshear said.

"What we think that this PAC can offer other Democrats is a roadmap and support in tough states for good people who are running for the right reasons," he said.

Beshear is among a handful of governors across the country who are more popular than Biden and Congress and who are looked at as being their respective parties' future.

Chief among them are fellow Democratic Govs. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan and Gavin Newsom of California, in addition to Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin of Virginia. They have created similar groups over the past year or more.

Beshear's rising Democratic star power

After vanquishing his Republican challenger, former Attorney General Daniel Cameron, in a state dominated by the GOP that Trump won by about 24 points in 2020, Beshear immediately become part of the coversation about possible vice presidential or presidential candidates.

"I think he’s presidential," Kentucky voter Dan Dykstra, a hospital chaplain, said in a November interview at Beshear's victory party.

State and national Democrats heralded the win and pointed to how the Beshear campaign was able to successfully fend off attacks about Biden's low popularity in Kentucky.

Others spotlighted how the 46-year-old governor overcame sharp attacks by the Cameron campaign and outside groups that drilled into culture war issues and larger economic anxiety by focusing on kitchen table subjects, such as health care.

Beshear's team was also credited by political observers with running one of the more effective ads in the 2023 cycle, an ad leveraged voters against the Republican-controlled Kentucky legislature's strict anti-abortion law.

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Beshear has tried to tone down speculation on his future and said several times after the election that he is committed to serving out his second four-year term, which ends in December 2027.

The governor said Sunday that creating In This Together "should not be read as a signal of me running for anything else" during his time in office.

He ruled out running for Congress, but notably did not disqualify being on the 2028 presidential ticket, which would take place after his term expires.

"I have no idea if that would ever be possible for a guy like me ... it's flattering," Beshear said Sunday.

Asked if the PAC is an indication he wants a larger national role within the party and its future, however, Beshear said last year's campaign puts him in position to deliver his and Kentucky's message nationally.

"I want to make sure whether it is in Washington or the rooms discussing policy or politics that Kentucky has a front-row seat at the table," he said.

How did Beshear become so popular?

Part of the governor's appeal comes from his last name. His father, Steve Beshear, held a variety of state offices for several decades, finishing as Kentucky’s governor from 2007 to 2015.

The younger Beshear, who previously served as attorney general, edged out incumbent Matt Bevin in the 2019 election by about 5,000 votes, a narrow win that Republicans and most analysts attributed to Bevin’s soured approval after he made polarizing comments.

But Beshear built his own following during his first term, chiefly through his humanizing televised briefings that aired statewide daily during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell and Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear sat together in the Capitol rotunda before a swearing-in ceremony on the first day of the 2024 Kentucky General Assembly in Frankfort, Ky. Jan. 2, 2024
Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell and Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear sat together in the Capitol rotunda before a swearing-in ceremony on the first day of the 2024 Kentucky General Assembly in Frankfort, Ky. Jan. 2, 2024

Voters across party lines gave the governor high marks for his visibly empathetic responses to other crises, too.

In 2021, for instance, Beshear was active in disaster responses including tornadoes in Western Kentucky that killed more than 80 people and the 2022 floods in Eastern Kentucky that left more than 40 dead.

Morning Consult ranked Beshear as the nation’s most popular Democratic governor last summer, with high marks from Republicans and Democrats alike.

Still, allies and critics point out, he’d likely need to broaden his message in a national race.

He took care during his 2023 reelection campaign to keep a distance from Biden and avoid discussing ideas popular among more outspoken progressive Democrats, such as climate change.

Beshear acknowledged global warming is a legitimate threat but rarely discusses it, even in the aftermath of serious national disasters.

The governor has also tiptoed around slamming Trump, who remains well-liked among most Bluegrass State voters.

David Hanes waves a Trump flag as Jesiah St. Pierre looks on as the two supporters rallied for outgoing President Donald Trump on Wednesday morning, the day of the Electoral vote. Another protester with a megaphone called out Gov. Andy Beshear. Later in the day, Donald Trump's speech in Washington sparked hundreds of supporters to march on the U.S. Capitol and dozens breaking into the building, vandalizing and occupying the Senate chambers before order was restored Wednesday. Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021

When Trump ripped him days before the election, for example, Beshear pivoted to discuss Kentucky’s economy and infrastructure when asked by a reporter for his response.

Those issues could become more difficult for Beshear to sidestep if the new PAC gets involved in close races, especially criticism from more left-leaning players in his party.

Beshear acknowledged that his PAC is going to support candidates who may have some different views than he does but indicated that it will be more about a candidate's character than an ideological litmus test.

"I am who I am, and that's not going to change because of this PAC," he said. "I am a pragmatic governor. ... I think I've shown that pressure from the right or the left doesn't move me."

PAC launches could be 2028 jockeying

Beshear isn't alone in increasing his national presence.

Governors of both parties who are mentioned as having higher aspirations have launched PACs as a way to raise their stock.

Doing so establishes a national donor network, and makes needed allies outside their state.

Youngkin's PAC, Spirit of Virginia, raised $30 million to support Republicans at the state and federal levels from March 2021 to October 2023.

Youngkin was heavily recruited by conservative donors late last year to join the 2024 GOP primary race, but he ultimately declined after his party failed to seize state legislative majorities.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addressed the local leaders, Port of Monroe staff and others Monday, April 3, 2023 after touring the Port of Monroe which will become the first port in Michigan to build a container terminal after receiving a $5 million grant from the state and additional funding from the federal government. The MV James R. Barker is an American bulk carrier that operates on the upper four North American Great Lakes was docked at the Port of Monroe.

Other governors are also investing outside their states, indicating an appetite for a larger spot on the national stage.

Newsom, who is mentioned as the next party standard bearer, has a group, Campaign for Democracy PAC, that promotes Democrats running in Republican-led states. It has raised at least $8.7 million so far this cycle.

Whitmer, of Michigan, is a co-chair of Biden's re-election campaign, along with other notable Democratic lawmakers and fundraisers.

She launched her Fight Like Hell PAC last June and released the first round of endorsements in December, funneling money to Democrats running in competitive House districts.

Asked whether Whitmer's PAC effort was in part laying the groundwork for a presidential campaign, a spokesperson for the PAC said no.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin speaks at an event promoting the next round of legislation in his 'Right Help. Right Now.' mental-health initiative Thursday, Dec. 14, 2023, at the Library of Virginia in Richmond.
Gov. Glenn Youngkin speaks at an event promoting the next round of legislation in his 'Right Help. Right Now.' mental-health initiative Thursday, Dec. 14, 2023, at the Library of Virginia in Richmond.

"Governor Whitmer is laser-focused on serving the people of Michigan and reelecting President Biden, Vice President Harris, and Democrats who will make progress on our shared values," the spokesperson said.

But at a time when voters have expressed worry about the age of the presidential front-runner, those younger leaders also enjoy something the front-runner of their party doesn't: popularity.

Newsom, Whitmer and Beshear have all expressed support for the president's reelection, but they all outpace Biden, whose approval ratings have been underwater since the summer of 2021.

Youngkin is also rated as more popular than Trump, who holds a commanding lead to return as the GOP nominee for president.

"I believe that as governors, we are closer to the people that we serve in our federal counterparts, and that we also have a stronger role in getting things done and taking an idea and turning it into action and ultimately results," Beshear said.

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear launches PAC to combat 'anger politics' nationally