Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.
As expected, “deep red” Kentucky has a competitive Republican gubernatorial primary.
Attorney General Daniel Cameron is the favorite and has been the poll leader from the outset. He was initially endorsed by former President Donald Trump and has close ties to Sen. Mitch McConnell. Cameron could be the first African American Republican Governor.
Cameron’s closest challenger is former Ambassador to Canada and the United Nations, Kelly Craft. This past week, she was endorsed by Texas Senator, Ted Cruz who recognized her work on the USMCA, one of the signature achievements of the Trump Administration.
“Kelly Craft is the candidate that Kentuckians need as their governor to usher in a new generation of leadership,” Cruz said in a statement. “I’ve seen firsthand how hard Kelly has worked to stand up to the Chinese Communist Party and negotiate the largest trade deal in American history.”
Craft has greatly benefited from her coal wealth. Coal magnate, Joe Craft is her husband and has reportedly lent her campaign $12.25 million thus far.
Daniel Cameron’s latest round of ads touted Trump’s endorsement. Unmentioned is the fact that the endorsement was made prior to Craft’s entry into the race.
Ryan Quarles is currently running a distant third with 21% of Kentucky Republicans remaining undecided. Kentucky is a “closed primary” state.
At first glance, Cameron looked to be the rising star of the state Republican Party. He appealed to black voters, urging them to abandon the Democrats, and continuously reminding them of Trump’s achievements in relation to the black community. His reference to Joe Biden’s participation in the 1996 Crime Bill did not go unnoticed.
Thanks to her monster “war chest,” Craft has been able to effectively position Cameron as part of the “establishment.” It is no secret that he is the choice of Kentucky’s senior Senator McConnell. This helped secure some urgently needed cash from out-of-state PACs, courtesy of the Senate Minority Leader.
The tiebreaker question that the Kentucky GOP is now addressing is “Who will have the best chance of unseating incumbent Governor Andy Beshear?”
“Beshear is going to be difficult to beat, and I would argue he’s probably the front-runner,” said Kentucky-based GOP strategist Scott Jennings, an adviser to McConnell.
Four years ago, most Kentuckians gave Beshear long odds, even though his father, Steve Beshear was a two-term Governor, from 2007 to 2015. An ill-advised misstep by then-Governor Matt Bevin greatly angered the teachers union. Even with a last-minute visit to the state from then-President Trump, Bevin did not survive, losing to Beshear by a few thousand votes.
Beshear has become the darling of the national DNC. As one Broward County, Florida Democrat phrased, “He is the future. He might be considered for the Presidency down the road.”
Although Beshear has not indicated a desire for a political position higher than the governorship, one can see the possibilities. He is young, articulate, photogenic, and is in lockstep with the national Democrat agenda. One Fayette County Republican referred to Beshear as “Gavin Newsome East.”
During the lockdown, Bashear echoed Newsom’s COVID measures. Churchgoers were alarmed by his warning that state troopers would note and record their license plates if they were caught attending services. The Kentucky Supreme Court struck down Bashear’s draconian mask mandates. Several of his vetoes have been overridden by Kentucky’s General Assembly.
Kentuckians are certain to be reminded of Beshear’s heavy-handed style. How the Governor will effectively counterpunch is the looming question.
Donald Trump won Kentucky by 26 points. At the top of Trump’s agenda is energy independence. He is sure to have input in the 2024 general election. There is also the rift that the former president has with McConnell.
In Trump’s eyes, his last-minute campaign visit to the Bluegrass State may have saved McConnell from a humiliating Senate defeat in 2020 to Amy McGrath. Trump had expected McConnell to join Senator Cruz, Missouri Senator Josh Hawley, and 100 Republican Congressional members in asking for a ten-day extension prior to the 2020 election certification.
To Kentuckians’ surprise, McConnell did an about-face, urging certification. Trump has not forgotten! And MAGA Republicans are slowly beginning to link Cameron to McConnell. If he survives the primary, expect Beshear to reiterate this association.
Also anticipated are the millions of out-of-state, special interest dollars which will likely come Beshear’s way. He is a successful Democrat Governor in a “cherry red” state. His reelection could be a hint of things to come in the 2024 presidential election.
One unnamed Louisville Independent went as far as to say, “People in the state are sick of Mitch McConnell’s “father knows best” mentality.” When they piece together the fact that Cameron is a Mitch McConnell protege, they will say, “No thanks.”
Craft doesn’t have this distinction. She is notably a “friend of coal,” which will help her in the Eastern Kentucky mountains. She has an impressive foreign policy resume. And, she has made “anti-wokism” a cornerstone of her campaign with the same voracity as has Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
In short, if Craft manages to defeat Cameron, she will use her war chest to position Beshear as “too liberal” for Kentucky. Without McConnell to place by her side, Beshear will face an uphill battle! Especially if Trump returns to the Commonwealth to remind Kentuckians of Beshear’s hyper-progressive stances on everything from climate change to CRT.
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