Opinion — Bill Straub: Is Andy Beshear musing about possibilities ahead? The White House?

James Carville, who knows a little something about political talent (see Clinton, Bill) thinks he’s found a prospect ready for the big leagues, a man he calls “a good friend” – Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear.

James, a friendly acquaintance, although I haven’t seen him much since he left DC and relocated to his native turf of Louisiana, is open about his disappointment in President Biden’s decision to seek a second term this year, maintaining that his Democratic Party has a deep bench with strong prospects ready to step up to the challenge. And he sees Beshear sitting in the catbird seat.

“He’s in a state where the Democrats couldn’t come within 20 points, and he won by 5 or 6 points. There’s so much talent, and a lot of it is young and vigorous and energetic,” Carville said during a recent appearance on The Cats Roundtable broadcast by WABC-AM in New York.

The NKyTribune’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com

The Ragin’ Cajun is referring to Beshear’s successful gubernatorial re-election campaign last year that saw him defeat Republican state Attorney General Daniel Cameron, a protégé of Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, of Louisville, and endorsed by the once and, perhaps, future president, Donald J. Trump, by a solid five points.

It was an impressive victory since registered Republicans now outnumber Democrats in a commonwealth where the party of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Wendell Ford dominated for decades. Republicans control the state House and Senate in overwhelming fashion and Trump himself carried Kentucky with better than 62 percent of the vote, a 26-point margin, over Biden, the eventual winner nationwide in 2020.

So, there’s a basis for Carville to believe Beshear, at age 46, might just have what it takes. Their relationship offers a bit of irony since Carville played a key role in denying Beshear’s old man the Democratic nomination for governor in 1987.

It was James at that time who ramrodded the campaign of underdog Wallace Wilkinson in the Democratic primary. Wilkinson, with Carville’s guidance, emerged victorious over a host of contenders including Andy’s father, Steve Beshear, then the lieutenant governor, and former Gov. John Y. Brown.

Of course, it should be noted that the elder Beshear, after a lapse of 20 years, returned to the stage and won two terms as governor himself beginning in 2007.

So, no hard feelings.

Carville used the Wilkinson campaign as a steppingstone into primetime, managing former President Bill Clinton’s successful first run at the White House in 1992, an extravaganza depicted in the documentary The War Room.

Apparently, Beshear is now taking due note of the possibilities that lie ahead – not this year but four years hence when, regardless of who wins in November, opportunities will abound. Whoever wins this presidential election will be constitutionally barred from seeking a third term. Whoever loses will be as old as Methuselah and probably kaput as far as politics is concerned.

Voters, after this year weighing the choice between an 81-year-old White guy and a 78-year-old White guy, might seek a fresh face on the national political scene in 2028.

With no campaign to run this year, and barred from seeking a third term as governor in 2027, Beshear is spreading the good cheer around and establishing relationships if it so happens he decides a change of address to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., is in order.

Beshear’s political action committee, In This Together PAC, will undoubtedly be generously distributing the coin to Democratic candidates, particularly those on the federal level, who are facing tough races. He was in Montana – and who from Kentucky travels to Montana for anything other than duck hunting? – a few months back attending the Metcalf Mansfield Dinner, an annual party event, featuring Sen. John Tester, D-MT, who is facing a stiff re-election challenge.

According to the Federal Election Commission, Beshear dropped off $6,600 to Tester while he was in the neighborhood. As of April 30, In This Together has collected $217,730.69 in total federal receipts. According to its website, the PAC “will support good people and good candidates running for local, statewide and federal office in red or purple states who demonstrate a commitment to leading with empathy and compassion and the backbone to always do what’s right, regardless of politics.”

Beshear, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader, followed the Montana visit with a pair of May fundraisers, one in Frankfort and the other in Louisville, in behalf of Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-OH, who like Tester, is facing a tough road to re-election. And he has some speaking engagements lined up in Tennessee and Virginia.

But, as Tony Bennett used to sing, the best is yet to come. Beshear has been invited by the Iowa Democratic Party to serve as the keynote speaker at its annual fundraiser in July. Headlining a political event in Iowa has traditionally been a coveted prize for any presidential wannabe because of its stat’s status as the site of the first major contest in the primary season.

Truth be told, such an appearance may not carry the prestige of yore. In the past, potential presidential contenders were drawn to the Hawkeye State like gnats to a lightbulb because if its first-in-the-nation status, catapulting the likes of Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama into the White House. But changes in the calendar imposed by the Democratic National Committee could usurp that prominence, awarding that distinction to the South Carolina primary and the Nevada caucuses.

Iowa may have been moved to the backseat, but the invite further establishes that Democrats outside the commonwealth are eager to hear what Beshear has to offer. And he’s burnishing his image. Beshear hasn’t exactly been John Muir when it comes to the environment. He’s not a Trump-like “burn, baby, burn” sort on the issue but he hasn’t been a great advocate either, perhaps owing to the remnants of a reduced yet still influential Kentucky coal industry that doesn’t much like anyone getting in its way.

Tree-hugging ala Al Gore would definitely play well in any Democratic primary, particularly as it relates to global climate change, an issue Beshear has, in the recent past, run around Robin Hood’s barn to avoid. An energy plan released during last year’s gubernatorial campaign failed to address global warming at all.

That lackadaisical attitude might work in coal-heavy Kentucky but Democratic primary voters nationally, who are traditionally environmentally conscious, are unlikely to buy what he’s selling, especially since others seeking the job will hit environmental concerns hard.

Beshear thus far is taking baby steps, touting his recruitment of a pair of EV battery plants that promoters maintain should reduce carbon emissions by replacing gasoline-powered automobiles with electric vehicles.

Good luck if that’s the best you can do.

Beshear is smart enough to know that, should he seek the White House, others with the same ambition aren’t just going to hand him the keys. Vice President Kamala Harris, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro and countless others are already girding up for 2028.

And Beshear will have to ask himself if a party dominated by women and a healthy dose of Black Americans will be satisfied with another White guy next go-round.

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