The 2022 midterm elections left Republicans with a bad taste in their mouths. On November 3, 2022, the GOP barely regained control of the House of Representatives and failed to do the same with the Senate, something that many analysts defined as an "unforced error."
Six months later, voters will return to the polls in Kentucky to elect the candidate who will try to paint the state red again in November. Democrat Andy Beshear has governed the Bluegrass State since December 2019, months after surprisingly defeating Republican Matt Bevin by 0.37 points.
Four years later, Republicans will attempt to take back a state that is traditionally Republican for national politics. However, the same is not true when it comes to statewide elections. For example, Democrats have ruled there for 42 of the last 50 years yet they voted Republican for president in eight of the last ten elections.
For the Tuesday, May 16 primary, there are only two truly competitive candidates - Daniel Cameron and Kelly Craft. The first is the state attorney general, who has the backing of Donald Trump and happens to be the favorite to win in the primary. Just a short step behind is Craft, former ambassador to the UN during the last years of the Trump administration.
Cameron, 37, happens to be the first African-American attorney general in state history and caught the nation's attention during the 2020 Republican National Convention. Although he arrived as a virtual stranger, he made the most of his moment and gave one of the most memorable speeches of the day.
"I think often about my ancestors who struggled for freedom. And as I think of those giants and their broad shoulders, I also think about Joe Biden, who says, if you aren’t voting for me, 'you ain’t Black.' Who argued that Republicans would put us 'back in chains.' Who says there is no 'diversity' of thought in the Black community? Mr. Vice President look at me, I am Black. We are not all the same, sir. I am not in chains. My mind is my own. And you can’t tell me how to vote because of the color of my skin," he said at the time.
Daniel Cameron is the only candidate who can unite every faction of the Republican Party, take on Beshear, and WIN the general election. We are focused on doing just that. Anyone can run but only one person can actually win, and that’s Daniel. pic.twitter.com/GviwnSXaoS
— Daniel Cameron (@DanielCameronAG) January 6, 2023
After the speech, many analysts predicted that he would be the next rising Republican star, so he was encouraged to jump into the race for governor, something he confirmed on May 11, 2022. The former president's quick endorsement positioned him as the favorite for the primaries.
Trump referred to him as a "young star" who has done an "outstanding" job as attorney general, for which he earned his "complete and total endorsement." Cameron based his campaign on his time in office, particularly in defending freedom in the face of the Biden-Beshear agenda, fighting the opioid epidemic, stopping critical race theory in schools, prioritizing the right to life, opposing ESG criteria, and being tough on crime.
Craft is a former ambassador to Canada and to the United Nations during the Trump administration. She joined the race in September 2022 and has since invested quite a bit of money out of pocket in the campaign.
She has spent around $8 million, eight times more than Cameron, who spent only $770,000 on his campaign. Her spending has allowed her to climb rapidly in the polls, going from 3% in the polls to being the main competitor of the attorney general, whom she describes as a member of the establishment and a career politician.
— Kelly Craft (@KellyCraftKY) May 16, 2023
According to POLITICO, Craft loaned her campaign some $7 million since January 2023, with an additional $260,000 coming from other donors. Cameron, by comparison, grossed just over $400,000 in that same period. The diplomat is receiving outside help from the Commonwealth Super PAC, which is running negative ads against her opponent.
Craft based her "movement" on reducing crime statewide, as well as creating new jobs, citing her work as an ambassador. According to her, it is time to "restore Kentucky's promise."
"I am running for the people of the state I love, the people with whom I’ve grown up, and to honor the parents who cared so much for me, showed me what life is, taught me real values, loved me, and loved the state they worked throughout their lives," she states on her website.
What do the polls say?
According to the latest Emerson College poll, released just days before the election, Cameron will prevail in the primaries with 33% of the votes, 15 percentage points ahead of Craft, with 18%. Third place seems like it will go to current Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, who is predicted to come in at 13%.