Kentucky Republicans Choose Cameron to Challenge Democratic Gov. Beshear

Republican voters in Kentucky on Tuesday chose Daniel Cameron, the state’s popular conservative attorney general, to challenge Democratic Governor Andy Beshear, setting up one of the most closely watched elections of the year, according to an early call of the race by the Associated Press.

Cameron, who is Black and has a rising national profile among conservatives, was endorsed by former President Donald Trump. With 39% of votes counted Tuesday night, he led his nearest opponent by more than 20 points.

Republicans also voted to renominate incumbent Secretary of State Michael Adams, who fended off a challenge by a candidate who endorses false claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen by Democrats, according to the AP’s call.

A dozen candidates battled for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, with three emerging as the leading contenders in public polls: Cameron, who is the state’s first Black attorney general; Kelly Craft, a former U.N. ambassador under Trump; and state Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles.

Cameron will face Beshear, who enjoys high approval ratings despite being a Democrat in a strongly Republican state and is seeking his second term as governor, in the November general election.

Trump won Kentucky in the 2020 election against Democrat Joe Biden by more than 25 percentage points.

While Cameron had Trump’s official endorsement, other candidates also sought to claim the mantle of Trump’s “Make America Great Again” movement.

“The role of Donald Trump, the man, may be different from the role of Trumpism, the political orientation,” said Stephen Voss, a University of Kentucky political science professor. “These candidates cannot afford to ignore the Trump vote.”

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who is expected to challenge Trump for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, on Monday endorsed Craft.

Craft, 61, whose husband is a billionaire coal magnate, poured millions of dollars from her personal wealth into the campaign. Her allies attackedCameron as a political insider and highlighted his ties to Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky U.S. senator and Senate minority leader who has clashed with Trump.

Craft focused on culture issues, including school policies affecting transgender students, and vowed to “dismantle” the state education department. At a recent campaign event, she said Kentucky “would not have transgenders in our school system” if elected, according to the Lexington Herald Leader.

A campaign spokesperson told reporters she was referring to combating “woke ideologies” in school.

Republican lawmakers in April overrode Beshear’s veto to enact a bill that outlawed gender-affirming care for minors and permitted teachers to refer to transgender students by their birth pronouns, among other limits.

Cameron, 37, emphasized his record in office, reminding voters of his lawsuits against Beshear and the Biden administration over abortion, immigration and COVID-19 policies. In his first television ad, he attacked Beshear for closing churches during lockdown in 2020 and said he sued to ensure religious freedom was protected.

Quarles, 39, largely avoided the fray, instead touting his rural background and criticizing Cameron and Craft for going negative.

In the race for the party’s nomination for secretary of state, Kentucky’s highest election official, Republican Adams held a commanding lead late Tuesday with 33% of votes counted, beating his nearest opponent with 64.4% of votes to challenger Stephen Knipper’s 26.4%.

Knipper, one of two challengers, has echoed Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was rigged and endorsed conspiracy theories about voting machines. The third Republican in the race, Allen Maricle, called for expanding investigations into voter fraud.