Keeping politics local

Authored by Jeffery Tyler Syck

On December 12, Democrat Andy Beshear was inaugurated for a second term as governor of Kentucky. Beshear’s political strength in the ruby-red state has taken Republican strategists by surprise. They had hoped that by running one of Mitch McConnell’s favorite proteges they could unseat the incumbent governor and consolidate Kentucky’s transition to a Republican stronghold. Most have attributed Beshear’s victory to his ability to mask his broadly liberal politics under a veneer of country folksiness. There is no doubt a lot of truth to this, but in a deeper sense the 2023 Kentucky gubernatorial election represents a clear repudiation of nationalizing politics.

In a general election, there are two common strategies: drive up turnout among the party base or reach for the middle. Faced with these options, Republican nominee Daniel Cameron decisively chose the first strategy. His campaign painted Gov. Beshear as a left-wing extremist. Cameron tried to connect the incumbent governor to unpopular President Joe Biden. In speech after speech, campaign leaflet after campaign leaflet, Cameron reminded voters that while he stood with Donald Trump, Beshear backed Biden. In short, Republicans wanted to make the election about national and not local politics. Behsear worked diligently to repudiate this style of campaigning. One of his favorite refrains in discussions with voters quickly became some version of “My opponent wants to make this election about national politics, I want this election to be about Kentucky.”

The results of the election prove the superiority of the local orientation. All other major Republican candidates in the state won by wide margins, with Cameron trailing far behind Republican office seekers lower down the ballot. This serves as an easy indication that many Republican voters in the state opted to cast their ballots for the Democrat at the head of the ticket, rather than the nationalistic campaign of their co-partisan. Given the vastly different strategies adopted by each campaign, it is reasonable to assume that Kentucky voters gave us a clear indication that keeping politics local is the winning political approach. This thesis has held up in other key political contests such as Glenn Youngkin’s victory over Terry McAuliffe in Virginia and Mark Kelly’s triumph over Blake Masters in Arizona. 

Each one of these elections proves that keeping political debate tethered to local issues is a winning strategy but such an approach to government is simply superior. The pressure to make every issue, every aspect of our lives, about national politics is an unhealthy disease. One that rots the true heart of every democracy – localism. True freedom flourishes in the institutions that stand between the individual and the national state. It is in these layers of civil society and regional government that draw humans out of their own lives and help us to forge vibrant communities in which civilization can flourish.

To put this all more simply, the most important political goal we are given is to ensure the dignity of everyday human existence. This means ensuring that fathers and sons can enjoy an afternoon fishing with one another; That mothers and daughters can bond over a good book together; That a local community can gather at a town festival or church and look passed their many differences to simply relish the company of others. All of this is threatened by making national politics, which does not organically touch upon our daily lives, so central to our existence. Though he is not without major political problems, in his own way Andy Beshear understood this important reality and has been duly rewarded. Hopefully, the rest of our political class will soon get the memo.

Jeffery Tyler Syck is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Pikeville in his native Kentucky.

Authored by:Jeffery Tyler Syck


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