John Flavell, Associated Press
FRANKFORT, Ky. — Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear was re-elected overwhelmingly Tuesday, becoming the second Democrat to win a U.S. gubernatorial race this year despite lingering economic uncertainty that's already proving worrisome to President Barack Obama's 2012 effort.
Beshear easily overcame challenges from Republican David Williams and independent Gatewood Galbraith in a conservative state where voters routinely elect Republicans in national races. With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Beshear had 464,182 votes or 56 percent, to 294,009 votes for Williams or 35 percent. Galbraith had 74,856 votes or 9 percent.
Williams, the state Senate president, and Galbraith, an attorney in his fifth run for governor, campaigned on claims Beshear didn't do enough to create jobs in a state where one in 10 workers is unemployed. Beshear countered by emphasizing that Kentucky was emerging stronger from the downturn.
Beshear, flanked by running mate Jerry Abramson of Louisville, told hundreds of cheering supporters at a Frankfort convention center that voters used the election to send a mandate to Kentucky political leaders to shelve partisan politics.
"Too often rank partisanship has stood in the way of moving Kentucky forward," Beshear said. "That's why, in this election, I asked the voters to send a strong message, a message rejecting the politics of obstruction, the politics of division and the politics of religious intolerance. And today, they have sent that message in the strongest possible terms."
The popular governor had extended his political coattails to other Democratic candidates who won races for attorney general, auditor, secretary of state and treasurer. The only race Republicans won was for agriculture commissioner.
In his concession speech, Williams, who has been the GOP's leader in a decade's worth of legislative battles with Democrats, said he plans to report for duty in Frankfort on Wednesday as "a new and improved" Senate leader.
"My conviction and my faith has been made stronger by the effort that I've gone through" he said. "... I feel I'm a better man for this experience."
Williams, who had recruited Kentucky basketball icon Richie Farmer to be his running mate, was soundly criticized late in the campaign when he tried to whip up a Bible-Belt backlash against Beshear for participating in a Hindu-style ceremony last month on the site of an India-based company's proposed manufacturing plant. Beshear referenced that attack when he called for religious tolerance in his victory speech.
Democrats have lost only two Kentucky governor's races since 1950, and Beshear kept the win streak going, predicting on the campaign trail that he would join West Virginia's Earl Ray Tomblin as the second Democrat to win a governor's race this year.
Tomblin won Oct. 4 in a special gubernatorial election after his Republican challenger sought to paint as a mandate on Obama's presidency.
Williams also tried to make Obama a central figure in the Kentucky campaign.
Beshear endorsed Obama for re-election while Williams blamed the Democratic president for job-killing economic policies and for environmental policies that have harmed Kentucky's coal industry, which employs about 18,000 people. At campaign stops, Williams said Beshear had failed to set an agenda that puts people back to work, noting Kentucky has lost some 90,000 jobs since Beshear took office in 2007.
Beshear acknowledged that the economic gloom continues, but insisted that Kentucky is emerging from lean times much stronger than most other states.
"And my top priority as governor will continue to be creating a job for every Kentuckian who needs a job," he said Tuesday night. "There are still far too many people out of work and far too many families struggling to get by. Things are getting better, but still too slowly."
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