Kentucky voters on Tuesday will settle the most important Republican primary of 2023, as they choose their candidate to take on Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear in November.
State Attorney General Daniel Cameron, a former aide to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell who is endorsed by former President Donald Trump and is vying to become the state’s first Black governor, is widely viewed as the frontrunner.
But Kelly Craft, who has the backing of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, served as the US ambassador to Canada and then to the United Nations under Trump and is the wife of billionaire coal magnate Joe Craft, has pumped millions of dollars into television ads in the race. And state Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles has courted conservatives in rural areas of the Bluegrass State, emerging from a pack of 10 additional candidates to gain significant traction.
At the center of the primary battle is Trump, who is seeking to once again demonstrate his influence on Republican primary voters as the party’s 2024 presidential race takes shape.
The former president endorsed Cameron – who had a prime speaking slot at the 2020 Republican National Convention and has been viewed by many in the GOP as a rising star – in June 2022, even though Craft, who worked in his administration, was considering entering the race.
Trump spoke briefly at a tele-rally for Cameron on Sunday evening.
“He’s a great guy. Again, I’ve known him right from the beginning of his career. I’ve been with him all the way and now he’s doing this and I have no doubt he’s going be a fantastic governor,” Trump said.
Vivek Ramaswamy, a 2024 Republican presidential contender who endorsed Craft and campaigned with her in Lexington on Monday, said in an interview the race is “a prequel of what’s to come” in the presidential primary.
He said Craft has “an outsider mentality” and could rock the GOP establishment by defeating Cameron.
“McConnell’s behind him, Trump’s behind him – that’s the establishment. And I think we’re bucking the establishment here,” Ramaswamy said. “We’re both underdogs.”
Craft said in a statement Monday night that she was “honored and grateful” to have DeSantis’ support.
“He sets the example for Republican leaders around the nation because he delivers bold, conservative results. Kentucky needs to look more like Florida instead of California, and I look forward to ushering in a new generation of conservative leadership as Governor of Kentucky,” she said.
Beshear, whose father was a two-term governor, defeated Republican Gov. Matt Bevin – an unpopular incumbent who had angered many in his own party – in 2019. He faces nominal opposition in Tuesday’s Democratic primary, but is considered a shoo-in to fend off two challengers.
Despite Beshear’s popularity, Republicans point to gains in voter registration as evidence that Kentucky’s lone statewide elected Democratic official is vulnerable this year. Their effort to oust him could carry lessons for next year’s battle for control of the Senate, when the GOP is targeting Democratic incumbents in three more red states: Montana, Ohio and West Virginia.
While the governor’s race is Kentucky’s marquee contest of 2023, Republican Secretary of State Michael Adams – who has won bipartisan praise for his work with Beshear and the GOP-led legislature to expand mail-in and early voting – faces two primary opponents in his bid for a second term.
One opponent, information technology project manager Steve Knipper has lost two previous bids for the state’s chief elections role and has claimed without evidence that there was fraud in the 2019 governor’s race won by Beshear. Another contender is Allen Maricle, a former state lawmaker.
Adams said in an interview on KET this month that his rivals were pushing “crazy myths” about election fraud.
“The bottom line is our elections are more secure now than they’ve ever been,” he said.
Like the gubernatorial contest, the winner of the GOP primary for secretary of state only needs a plurality of the vote to land the nomination. Former state Rep. Buddy Wheatley is unopposed for the Democratic nomination.
All polls in Kentucky will close by 7 p.m. ET.
Source : CNN