Gov. Andy Beshear, flanked by Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman (at right), shakes hands with one of the people gathered Friday morning during his campaign’s kickoff bus tour stop in downtown Paducah. Beshear made several stops Friday in different Kentucky cities, starting with Paducah outside of the Freight House restaurant.

PADUCAH — A chant of “Andy! Andy! Andy!” greeted Gov. Andy Beshear on Friday morning, as he officially kicked off his general election campaign with a statewide bus tour, stopping first in downtown Paducah. He spoke to the gathered crowd about the challenges faced and the economic progress made in Kentucky this year, and over the past few years.

The campaign stop took place in the parking lot of Freight House restaurant, where Chef Sara Bradley, Mayfield Mayor Kathy O’Nan, Beshear advisor Rocky Adkins and Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman warmed up the crowd with praise for the governor, just days after his Democratic primary win with 91% of the vote.

He faces Republican opponent, Attorney General Daniel Cameron, in the Nov. 7 general election. Cameron came out on top of a crowded field of GOP candidates on Tuesday, winning 48%% of the vote over Ryan Quarles (22%) and Kelly Craft (17%), who came in second and third, respectively.

“In 2019, we came together and we shocked the world by beating Matt Bevin, and today we take another step forward to securing four more years,” Beshear said.

“You know folks, these last four years, we’ve been through a lot together. We’ve dealt with a pandemic, worst tornadoes we’ve ever seen, worst flooding we’ve ever seen. We lived through a polar plunge — negative 45-degree wind chill in Kentucky. We’ve lived through acts of senseless violence. We are dealing with inflation that, while temporary, is still tough on our families, and there’s even a war going on in Europe — something I only thought I’d read about in textbooks.”

Despite adversity, Beshear noted that he’s “never been more hopeful” or more optimistic about the future. He said that, in 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic, Kentucky broke economic development records and brought in $11.2 billion of new investment. He also spent time Friday touting job creation in the state.

“We went in to 2021 averaging about 9,000 new Kentucky jobs and that year, we created 18,000 Kentucky jobs,” Beshear added. “That’s the second highest raise we’ve ever announced. We didn’t stop in 2021. 2022 was our second best year ever — $10.5 billion in new investments, 16,500 new jobs and, in 2023, folks we are going to have at least our third best year ever.”

Beshear stressed that this is a chance to turn Kentucky’s “brain drain into a brain gain.” In related topics, he told supporters that Kentucky has become the electric vehicle battery production capital of the United States in the past two years, and that unemployment has decreased.

The seasonally adjusted preliminary unemployment rate for April this year was 3.7%, according to the Kentucky Center for Statistics. The state’s annual unemployment rate reported for 2022 was 3.9%, down from 4.4% in 2021.

“Folks, you realize in the first 12 months after the tornadoes, we created 750 new jobs in Mayfield. It made the top 100 in economic development. This is truly our chance to do something special, and folks the numbers don’t lie,” Beshear said. “Last year, we set the lowest annual unemployment rate in the history of the commonwealth of Kentucky.”

The Dec. 10, 2021 tornado that caused devastation across a significant part of Kentucky, including Fulton, Graves, Marshall, Caldwell and Hopkins counties, wasn’t far from other speakers’ minds on Friday — especially O’Nan’s. She recalled Beshear “showing up” for people in the aftermath of the massive EF-4 tornado that claimed the lives of 24 residents in Graves County alone.

“The morning after the tornado I stood with the governor at the (Mayfield Consumer Products) candle factory,” O’Nan said. “Daylight had just gotten there and it was difficult to see what all we were seeing because the search and rescue was still continuing. But the governor did that day what he does so very well — he showed up.

“He showed up and he stood with me. And, at first, we didn’t say much because we were just crying so hard. I knew what was in his heart without him saying a word. He showed up and I leaned on him.”

In the 17 months since, O’Nan said Beshear has shown up “not only in times when Kentuckians need him” in both western and eastern Kentucky, but he has also shown up to celebrate.

“I’m a lifelong Kentuckian and so very proud to be here and I can tell you that the next sentence I’m going to say, I would never have been able to say if Andy Beshear weren’t our governor. We are moving to the forefront of economic development in the United States and we couldn’t be prouder,” O’Nan said.

During Coleman’s remarks, she said the election is about “building a Kentucky that lifts people up, not one that leaves people out.” As Beshear did, she also spoke about economic development progress and unemployment figures.

“We’ve got record job creation, lowest unemployment numbers in Kentucky’s history, largest economic development investment across the commonwealth. And let me tell you something — this Mercer County girl is pretty proud of this number — we are No. 3 in the nation in rural economic development because every community matters. And that is what is on the line this election,” Coleman said.

“The progress that we have made in the last three years can translate to prosperity for the next 30, but we have to work together to make sure that we sent Andy Beshear back to the governor’s office in Kentucky.”

After the Paducah visit, Beshear had planned stops in Owensboro, Henderson, Elizabethtown and Bowling Green on Friday, with announced stops in Lexington, Morehead, Ashland, Pikeville and Prestonsburg for Saturday, and then Louisville and Newport on Sunday.