Andy Beshear is going to Iowa. Is that a precursor for a presidential run?

In American politics, no state punches above its weight more than Iowa.

With a long-standing tradition of being first in the nation’s presidential primary contests, the Hawkeye State has been the launchpad for underdog stories like former presidents Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama as well as crash sites for once-dominant presidential contenders like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

The political scrutiny is so intense that presidential hopefuls are often scrutinized for how they eat food at the Iowa State Fair.

So the reaction was understandably strong when the Iowa Democratic Party announced that Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear would serve as keynote speaker at its annual fundraiser in July.

Though Iowa is no longer the first Democratic presidential primary in the nation, it still raises the eyebrows of those already pontificating about an open Democratic presidential primary in 2028.

David Weigel, a national political reporter for the news outlet Semafor, posted a single word to the social media platform X in response to the news.

“Folks…” Weigel wrote, in an oblique reference used to hint at politicians who will seek higher office.

Longtime Kentucky political journalist and observer Al Cross added: “Presidential campaigns start in Iowa, more than anywhere else.”

Beshear, 46, still a young politician fresh off an impressive five-point reelection campaign last November, is one of more than a dozen Democrats floated by national media and consultants as contenders for the 2028 presidential nomination.

Prominent Clinton-era strategist James Carville recently named Beshear among a few of the party’s brightest young stars.

While 2028 is a long ways off, the timing for Beshear could work well for a presidential run.

He’s term-limited from running again when the second term expires in 2027. Beshear has repeatedly said he’s committed to serving out the term, eschewing the possibility of a U.S. Senate bid in 2026.

Beshear’s top political strategist referred the Herald-Leader back to previous comments Beshear has made regarding his political future, including his commitment to his current job.

And the governor has been making many of the moves one would expect for a politician looking to put themselves in a position to move on up in the political world.

Earlier this year, Beshear and allies started a political action committee called In This Together, as well as Heckbent, a political nonprofit, sometimes referred to as a “dark money” group.

He’s also been popping up all over the place — not just Iowa.

Beshear headlined annual fundraisers in Montana and Ohio in March, states at the precipice of the country’s biggest Senate elections with Democrats digging in to defend U.S. Senators Jon Tester and Sherrod Brown. Beshear hosted two Kentucky fundraisers for Brown in late May, and has appeared alongside Tester in a social media video.

This weekend, Beshear will speak at an abortion rights event in Tennessee and the annual Democratic fundraiser in Virginia.

So what does the recent news about the governor’s upcoming July speech in Iowa mean?

Probably not as much as it would have in the run-up to most other presidential elections.

“Under prior circumstances, pretty much any time anybody comes to Iowa then you get this kind of speculation, ‘Is this person running?’” University of Iowa political science professor Tim Hagle said.

But like 2024, 2028 won’t match with “prior circumstances.”

The Iowa Democratic Party did not immediately return a Herald-Leader request for comment about why Beshear was tapped to be the keynote speaker.

The Democratic primary order is in flux, as Iowa lost its placement as the first primary in the nation, ceding its spot to South Carolina after the Democratic National Committee reshuffled the order. It appears that 2028 might be up in the air, according to POLITICO, but Hagle doubts it will result in Iowa reclaiming its old spot.

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But still, Iowa retains value even if it retains its current placement on Super Tuesday in March. And getting connected in the state this early could prove useful to Beshear, especially in a caucus-style primary where advocates and activists matter even more than primary elections.

“If you’re thinking of a presidential run, you want to know who the players are,” Hagle said. “You want to come in to basically win friends and influence people so that if you come back with a campaign, you know whose door to knock on or whose phone to call to say, ‘Hey, I’m thinking about this. Will you be my county chair or district chair?’”

Trey Grayson, a Northern Kentucky attorney and former Republican secretary of state who served as director at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics, pointed out that the event will provide an opportunity for the Iowan political class to size up Beshear. National media, who tend to have strong connections in the state, are likely to hear about his performance from those politicos.

However, the most important factor, Grayson said, was the Iowa party’s invitation. To him, that’s proof positive of real interest in Beshear beyond the borders of the Commonwealth.

“It just reinforces everything we’ve heard from pundits and others, that there’s some interest in him,” Grayson said. “It’s one thing when James Carville says it, but it’s another when the Iowa state party invites him. He’s the keynote.

“That’s real.”