Republicans have the opportunity to take back the Kentucky governor’s mansion from Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear – who narrowly won in 2019 – in November, and numerous GOP contenders are itching for the nomination.
Beshear is running for his second term in 2023 in a state with a Republican supermajority in the legislature. Though 12 Republicans are running in the May 16 GOP primary, there are three clear frontrunners whose campaigns will largely hinge on issues such as education and crime while also targeting Beshear’s record on COVID-19, they told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
“Andy Beshear doesn’t represent Kentucky’s values. I’ve had to fight Beshear’s agenda so many times as attorney general, that I decided to do something about it and run to defeat him,” Daniel Cameron, the state’s attorney general, told the DCNF.
Cameron is the first black Kentuckian independently elected to statewide office and the first Republican attorney general since 1948. He already has the endorsement of former President Donald Trump and is leading the GOP field with 30% support, according to a Thursday Emerson College poll.
Cameron told the DCNF that he has been serving as a “check” on Beshear’s “liberal agenda,” from his COVID-19 policies to his “weaponizing” of education. The attorney general promised to champion parental rights in education by restricting the teaching of critical race theory and gender ideology, to bolster law enforcement and fight against the opioid crisis.
“Most voters don’t know much about Andy Beshear’s liberal positions at all,” said Cameron. “They don’t know he’s actually a liberal – who pretends to be a moderate. But they will by the time November rolls around.”
Cameron is a “bonafide celebrity in the Republican Party” whose high name ID and persona make him the clear frontrunner, Scott Jennings, a longtime GOP Kentucky adviser and veteran of numerous campaigns, previously told the DCNF.
Beshear won the Kentucky governorship in 2019 by a slim 5,000 votes, beating incumbent Republican Gov. Matt Bevin 49.2% to 48.8%. Watson and Jennings believe Beshear was able to win in 2019 as Bevin was seen as unpopular due to a series of controversial policies.
However, in 2020, Beshear shut down churches during the COVID-19 pandemic, which many felt encroached on their religious freedom rights, and the next year, vetoed two bills that restricted his ability to enforce mask mandates. Beshear also vetoed a bill that banned biological men from competing in women’s sports in 2022, and recently vetoed a bill that would ban gender reassignment surgeries on children; all of those vetoes were overruled by the GOP-held legislature.
“He’s one of the most – if not the most – liberal governors in America when it comes to bedrock, cultural and value issues, and in Kentucky – a conservative state – that’s going to matter,” Jennings previously told the DCNF.
Another frontrunner, Kelly Craft, worked under the Trump administration for four years, first as the U.S. Ambassador to Canada and then as U.N. Ambassador following Nikki Haley’s departure. Kentucky Republican Rep. James Comer, who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability, told the DCNF he is backing Craft for governor because she’s “the real deal.”
The former ambassador has touted her experience in the Trump administration, and promised to combat “woke ideologies” that are being funneled into the schools, as well as pledging to fight the fentanyl crisis and bolster Kentucky’s business economy.
“I’m running for Governor of Kentucky because we need to remove partisan bureaucrats from the Kentucky Department of Education,” Craft told the DCNF. “We also need a strong, conservative governor who won’t be a rubber stamp for Joe Biden’s radical policies.”
Craft’s million dollar advertisements have garnered her increased name recognition, handing her the number two slot behind Cameron at 24%, according to Emerson College’s poll.
Trailing both Cameron and Craft is Ryan Quarles, with 15% of the vote.
Ryan Quarles is the twice-elected Commissioner of Agriculture and previously served in Kentucky’s Legislature. Quarles has distinguished himself by running on local issues like ending the state income tax, attracting tourism to the eastern region of the state and reducing crime and the homeless population, he told the DCNF.
“Kentucky can do better than Andy Beshear, someone who shutdown main street, sent the police to churches on Easter Sunday, and played partisan political games as opposed to working with the state General Assembly,” Quarles said.
Tres Watson, a Republican political consultant, previously told the DCNF that Quarles is focusing on more state-based issues than that of Cameron or Craft, and is the candidate that Beshear is most afraid of.
“He lacks Cameron’s star power and Kelly’s resources,” Jennings told the DCNF. (RELATED: The GOP Could Flip Two Democratic-Held Governor Seats)
Beshear’s campaign did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.
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