Kentucky Republicans on Tuesday chose Attorney General Daniel Cameron as their nominee to challenge Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear in the Nov. 7 general election.
Cameron, 37, is finishing his first term as the state’s top law-enforcement officer. He lives in suburban Louisville.
He is the first independently elected Black statewide officeholder in Kentucky.
Cameron ran as a religious conservative endorsed by former President Donald Trump who frequently sued Beshear and Democratic President Joe Biden’s administration to challenge their policies.
In his victory speech Tuesday night, Cameron quickly thanked Trump for the public support.
“Let me just say, the Trump culture of winning is alive and well in Kentucky,” he said.
Cameron told his supporters that under Beshear, public schools are becoming a breeding ground for liberal ideas, fewer people are engaged in the workforce, violent crime is rising and there is a growing hostility toward religious faith.
“New leadership is needed now more than ever,” Cameron said.
“I am honored to be the Republican nominee for governor of the commonwealth of Kentucky,” Cameron says. pic.twitter.com/XkZiinwOTz
— Tessa Duvall (@TessaDuvall) May 17, 2023
Cameron easily dispatched his GOP competition in 2nd and 3rd place finishers Ryan Quarles, the commissioner of agriculture, and Kelly Craft, a former ambassador in the Trump administration. As of Thursday night, with all but one county reporting, Cameron claimed 48% of the vote compared to 22% for Quarles and 17% for Craft.
A former legal counsel to Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, Cameron scored a major triumph by winning the endorsement of Trump, someone who is actively hostile to his mentor.
“He’s strong on crime. He’s strong on the borders,” Trump said in an endorsement video for Cameron.
“He’s strong on everything you want him to be,” Trump said. “He loves our military. He loves our vets, and he will always take care of them and law enforcement. Number 1, above all, he’s with them and he’s with stopping crime, so I just want to let you know that as such an important place, it’s very important to get it right and you’re getting it right with Daniel Cameron as your governor.”
A political action committee associated with Trump claimed credit for Cameron’s victory Tuesday night. Make America Great Again Inc. noted that Trump’s choice won in Kentucky, not Craft, who was backed in this race by a Trump rival, Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
“President Trump is the leader of the Republican Party. The results in Kentucky’s Republican gubernatorial primary tonight reaffirm that. Republican voters stand with Donald Trump, not Ron DeSantis,” MAGA Inc. said in a statement.
Cameron was criticized in 2020 when — after an investigation by his office — only one Louisville police officer was indicted for his role in the Breonna Taylor shooting — and not for her death. That scrutiny was renewed in 2022 when the U.S. Department of Justice charged four officers for their roles, including the falsified warrant that led police to her door. Unlike the DOJ, Cameron’s office had not examined how the warrant was obtained.
On Tuesday, Cameron defeated a crowded field of GOP opponents, including the wealthy and self-funded Craft, a former United Nations ambassador who spent months attacking him relentlessly in television advertising. Among the others who fell short were Somerset Mayor Alan Keck, ex-lawyer Eric Deters and state auditor Mike Harmon.
Current #kygov GOP second-place candidate Ryan Quarles says he’s called winner AG Daniel Cameron and congratulated him.
“I talked to the general and said ‘enjoy your evening.’… Who knows what’s next in life?” pic.twitter.com/aY35pMdu3a
— Austin Horn (@_AustinHorn) May 17, 2023
“We left it all on the table,” Craft told her supporters in a tearful concession speech. “This has not been a campaign, this has been a revival.”
Craft: “When I got into this race, I knew this was gonna be tough… I knew that we would be attacked by Democrats but I never in a million years thought the attacks would come from my opponents to my family.” pic.twitter.com/pQzdgBvI5M
— Austin Horn (@_AustinHorn) May 17, 2023
Craft said she was disappointed that her GOP rivals attacked her family, a possible reference to criticism that her coal billionaire husband, Joe Craft, largely paid for her campaign by pouring millions of dollars into it. However, she said that she will unify with the rest of the state Republican Party now that a nominee has been chosen.
Craft did not take questions from the media following her speech.
Quarles pledged his support to Cameron. The commissioner of agriculture said that he felt good about his second place finish, but that Cameron’s high name I.D. played a role in propelling him well above the other contenders.
As for his future, Quarles did not say whether or not he’d be open to joining Cameron on the GOP ticket as a running mate. Quarles asserted that his public service career was “not over,” but added that his immediate post-election plans included working on his family farm.
“My service to Kentucky is not over. There will be other opportunities... On my dad’s farm, we’re still in planting season right now, so there’s no better way to clear your head than to go out and bush hog some fields,” Quarles said.
Beshear v. Cameron
Having settled an expensive and bitter primary fight, Republicans turn their attention to their real goal: unseating Beshear, 45, the only Democrat to remain in statewide office in Kentucky.
Beshear easily won the Democratic primary by a wide margin Tuesday, defeating two minor challengers.
During his four-year term, Beshear had to deal with the historic COVID-19 pandemic — angering many Kentuckians by temporarily closing schools, churches and businesses to reduce the spread of the infectious virus — and deadly natural disasters throughout the state, including tornadoes and floods.
His administration struggled to manage systemic problems with the state’s unemployment insurance and juvenile justice systems, due in part to years of under-investment in the state government workforce and infrastructure.
However, Beshear also can boast of successes, including a huge state budget surplus, low unemployment and several big economic development announcements, most notably the Ford BlueOvalSK Battery Park in Hardin County that is set to employ thousands of people.
Through his regular Team Kentucky updates, which are televised online, Beshear has cultivated an image of calm and compassion while some other political leaders around the country appeared churlish, even angry. Opinion polls consistently have shown Beshear to be one of the most popular governors in the country.
I’m honored to be your Democratic nominee for governor, Kentucky.
Together, we’re going to continue to build on the progress of the past 3 years—moving our commonwealth not left or right, but forward.
Let’s do this. https://t.co/xukMO3Iyk2
— Andy Beshear (@AndyBeshearKY) May 17, 2023
In his own statement late Tuesday, Beshear said he has produced a record of accomplishments on which he’s prepared to build over four more years. By contrast, he said, the Republicans want to drive a wedge between people on hot-button social issues that will do nothing but divide the state into factions.
“While they’re trying to pit us against each other, people in Kentucky know that this isn’t about right vs left. It’s about getting things done,” Beshear said.
“I want Kentucky to be a place where all of our kids have a future,” the governor said. “As a father, this is personal. We all want our kids to be able to have opportunity and potential here in every part of our commonwealth.”