Andy Beshear and Jacqueline Coleman, in a screenshot from the video announcing their run for governor and lieutenant governor of Kentucky

By Daniel Desrochers | Lexington Herald-Leader

Attorney General Andy Beshear threw down a challenge to his fellow Democratic gubernatorial nominees over the weekend: sign a pledge to not run any negative television or radio ads in the primary.

What Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin “is counting on, is a bloody, negative divisive Democratic Primary where the nominee limps out of it instead of surges into the general to beat him,” Beshear said. “So I say let’s not give him what he wants and needs.”

It’s an easy pledge for Beshear, who spent most of his speech contrasting himself against Bevin instead of his primary opponents. In early polling on the race, he’s well ahead of his Democratic rivals, and a moratorium on attack ads could help him come out of a primary unscathed.

But his opponents weren’t breaking out their pens to sign a pledge that could help their opponent keep his frontrunner status.

“I’m not going to sign something put forward by an opposing candidate,” said the former auditor Adam Edelen. “This needs to be a marketplace of ideas and it needs to be a race in which iron sharpens iron. What we know from the past is that when we haven’t had competitive Democratic primaries, it’s been to disastrous consequences in the fall.”

House Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, also wouldn’t commit to signing Beshear’s pledge, saying instead that he feels the race should be focused on things like education and supporting working families.

“This primary needs to be about the issues,” Adkins said. “I’ve always run positive campaigns, I’ve always talked about the issues and that’s what I’m going to do in this campaign.”

The three candidates were in Frankfort Saturday afternoon at the Kentucky Democratic Party’s headquarters to make their pitch to the executive committee and carve out a path compared to their opponents in the primary.

Beshear, who went first, juxtaposed himself against Bevin, pointing out the several lawsuits he has filed against Bevin and saying it proved that he can stand up to the governor and win. He called for an end to name-calling and bullying and touted his lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and his effort to end the state’s rape kit backlog.

“We’ve got to step back and look at this race as Democrats. It is more important than any of the individual candidates, it’s more important than me,” Beshear said to the first applause in his speech. “We must beat Matt Bevin. This state cannot survive another four years of him.”

Meanwhile, Edelen spent much of his speech subtly knocking Beshear.

Adam Edelen | Photo courtesy of campaign

“We’re not running for this election to beat Matt Bevin,” Edelen said. “It’s a hell of a side note, but it’s not why I’m running. I am running for governor because I have the skill set to build a modern Kentucky.”

Edelen has positioned himself as the most progressive candidate in the field and spent much of his speech saying the Democrats had to take more aggressive stances rather than being the party of opposition to the Republican majority in Frankfort. He pledged not to collect any PAC money and said the state must start investing in renewable energy to prepare for a changing economy.

“I’m not running for governor to play defense,” Edelen said, after saying protecting pensions wasn’t enough. “I am running for governor to move this state forward.”

State Rep. Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook | Photo by Joe Sonka

Adkins too positioned himself against Bevin, but he kept his focus on the issues that have dominated the past few legislative sessions like charter schools, pensions and anti-labor laws. He made a pitch that appeals to the traditional union Democrats in the party, while stressing the need to modernize Kentucky’s workforce.

“I think that working families are worth fighting for.” Adkins said. “And if you want a strong economy in Kentucky, you better have a strong working class.”

He stressed his roots in Eastern Kentucky, calling himself “someone who’s a little like” Kentucky voters. His strategy has largely centered around emphasizing the rural Democratic voters in the state rather than making the same play for the progressive wing of the party that Edelen and Beshear have attempted to court.

“I am not running as a show horse in this race,” Adkins said. “I am running as a workhorse.”

The fourth Democratic candidate, Geoff Young, is prohibited from entering the Kentucky Democratic Party headquarters after he filed a lawsuit against the party last year. He stood outside the headquarters with a sign as the speeches took place.