Kentucky’s 2023 race deserves more attention heading into 2024


Happening this Tuesday: President Joe Biden speaks at memorial service for the late Sandra Day O’Connor at 11:00 am ET and then hits a DC-area fundraiser at 5:00 pm ET … MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell interviews Vice President Kamala Harris at 10:00 pm ET … Young voters explain why they’re bailing on Biden, NBC’s Bianca Seward writes … Pro-Trump super PAC goes after Nikki Haley in New Hampshire TV ad … And it’s a busy day on the campaign trail in Iowa.

But FIRST … Of all the political stories in 2023 — and there were plenty — this one probably didn’t get the attention it deserves (in part because it got mixed with the other political races taking place last month).

Kentucky’s race for governor, which Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear won.

It demonstrated the power of the abortion issue, even in a red state like Kentucky. 

It underscored the advantage of incumbency. (Going back to the 2022 midterms, only one incumbent governor has lost re-election, even during these turbulent political times.)

And it revealed what happens when a politician has a high approval rating and gets good marks for disaster management. 

“We were talking about education. We were talking about an economic development win streak. We were talking about the things that we could continue to do that would make everybody’s daily life a little bit better, giving the people of Kentucky hope that there is a better tomorrow,” Beshear told reporters in Phoenix earlier this month. 

And some of those lessons — the power of abortion and incumbency — could carry over into next year’s presidential contest, especially given how Kentucky’s gubernatorial race has foreshadowed the eventual presidential outcome. 

But there are two significant differences between Beshear and Biden. 

One is age (Beshear is 46, Biden is 81). 

The other is approval ratings (Beshear’s was in the 60s; Biden’s is in the 30s and 40s).

Quote of the day

“I want to show the Democratic Party as a young person that you still need to earn our vote and if you don’t, the consequences will be your career. A Republican getting elected isn’t the end. It is the beginning of a much larger fight.” 

– Evan McKenzie, a 23-year-old from Madison, Wisconsin, and one of the young voters who spoke with NBC News about why Biden has not yet earned their votes.

The number of the day is … 16

That’s the number of campaign events happening today in Iowa featuring former President Donald Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley or entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy as the candidates load up their schedules before Christmas — and less than one month before the Iowa caucuses.

It’s the first time these four candidates have been in Iowa at the same time since August, when they attended the Iowa state fair, according to an NBC News analysis of campaign events.  

Ramaswamy leads the pack Tuesday, with seven (!!!) planned events across the state, followed by DeSantis, who’s planned four events. Haley is planning to attend three events, while Trump is doing a “commit to caucus” event in the evening.

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the other major candidate for the nomination, has not been in Iowa at all this cycle. He opted early to focus his campaign almost entirely on New Hampshire, the state with the first-in-the-nation primary in late January. 

Eyes on 2024: Pro-Trump group targets Haley in New Hampshire

MAGA Inc, the super PAC supporting Trump, has been quiet on the New Hampshire airwaves since June. But that’s changing, as it launches a new attack Tuesday against Haley — marking the first time it is targeting Haley in the Granite State. 

The 30-second spot slams Haley’s tax policies, showing footage of her supporting an increase in South Carolina’s gas tax and labeling her “high-tax Haley.” 

The former South Carolina governor did face criticism from GOP Sen. Tim Scott during the second GOP debate over the state’s gas tax. She responded by saying, “I fought the gas tax in South Carolina multiple times against the establishment,” noting that she countered a proposal to raise the state’s gas tax with a call to lower the income tax. 

The latest spot is a sign that Trump’s allies are acknowledging Haley’s rise in New Hampshire, even though recent polling shows Trump still dominating the GOP primary there. Haley’s campaign hopes a strong showing in New Hampshire will carry her to South Carolina, where she hopes to defeat Trump in her home state. 

Haley responded to an NBC News report Monday night that MAGA Inc would be targeting her, writing on social media, “Two days ago, Donald Trump denied our surge in New Hampshire existed. Now, he’s running a negative ad against me. Someone’s getting nervous. #BringIt”

In other campaign news … 

Young voters weigh in: NBC’s Bianca Seward spoke with young voters from across the country, who explained why they are hesitant to support Biden, despite voting for him in 2020. 

Poll problems: Biden is “increasingly frustrated” by his low approval ratings and polls showing him struggling against Trump, per The Washington Post.  

Immigration politics: As immigration negotiations continue in Congress, Democrats are pushing for ways “to prevent a future president from abusing some of the executive powers on the table,” writes NBC’s Sahil Kapur, out of fear Trump would do so if elected. And Politico reports how immigration is hurting Biden even in the Democratic city of El Paso, Texas.  

Campaign complaint: The Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit watchdog, filed a complaint Monday against DeSantis’ campaign and a super PAC backing him called Never Back Down, alleging that the two entities coordinated in a way that violates campaign finance laws.

Endorsement chase: Semafor examines the quiet jostling behind the scenes among GOP presidential hopefuls for Sen. Tim Scott’s endorsement since he dropped out of the race last month.

Crypto in elections: Leaders of the cryptocurrency industry have built up $78 million among three super PACs, which the leaders hope to use to influence Senate and House elections in 2024, CNBC reports. 

“What about Bob?”: The Associated Press examines the field of politicos in New Jersey hoping to succeed embattled Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, who hasn’t announced whether he’ll run for re-election following his indictment on federal charges.

ICYMI: What ELSE is happening in the world

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who died earlier this month, was honored during a service at the Supreme Court on Monday.

Hunter Biden is scheduled to be arraigned Jan. 11 in federal court on recently filed tax charges.

China tried to influence the 2022 midterm elections in the U.S., a new intelligence report found, per NBC’s Dan De Luce.

Women For America First purposely misled the National Park Service about where it planned to demonstrate on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington, saying that it did not intend to walk from the Ellipse to the Capitol, NBC’s Megan Lebowitz reports.