Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron will win his party’s nomination for governor in Tuesday’s primary, CNN projects, setting up a long-awaited showdown this fall with a Democratic governor. Andy Beshear.
Cameron, backed by Donald Trump, will beat former diplomat Kelly Craft in a race seen as a test of the former president’s influence on Republican primary voters as the 2024 presidential race takes shape.
Cameron’s victory marks one of the most important elections of 2023, with implications for 2024.
CNN forecast Tuesday night that Beshear will win the Democratic renomination. His bid for a second term could be an important landmark for next year, when his party defends Senate seats in other red states like Montana, Ohio and West Virginia.
Beshear, whose father served two terms as governor, defeated the Republican governor. Matt Bevin is an unpopular incumbent who angered many in his party in 2019. As expected, he fended off nominal Democratic opposition in Tuesday’s primary.
Republicans, though, argue that despite Beshear’s popularity, the November general election is likely to be competitive in the dark red state. In recent years, Republicans have eroded the Democratic lead in voter registration, and the Democratic presidential nominee has not won Kentucky since former President Bill Clinton was re-elected in 1996. Beshear is the only remaining member of the party elected at the state level.
Cameron said “thank you very much” to Trump at his campaign party on Tuesday.
“Let me just say that Trump’s victory culture is alive and well in Kentucky,” Cameron said.
Cameron nodded at his potential historic status: if he defeats Beshear in November, he will become Kentucky’s first black governor and the first black Republican elected governor in the United States.
“To all who are like me, know that you can achieve anything. Know that in this country and in Kentucky, all that matters is your values,” Cameron said.
He also recounted his attacks on Beshear in the upcoming election, accusing the first Democrat of crime, low labor force participation, fentanyl, and schools that he said “are on the verge of becoming a hotbed of liberal and progressive ideals.” ”
He said the Republican-controlled legislature deserved the most credit for Beshear’s accomplishments.
“The governor can’t pretend to be in the top three when everyone knows he was born on third base,” Cameron said.
He added: “The governor, who will not speak out on these issues and will not defend your interests, has relinquished his duties to the commonwealth and is no longer in a position to lead it.”
Kraft, in tearful comments at a pre-election party, did not use Cameron’s name but complained about his campaign tactics.
But she also urged Republican voters to unite against Beshear.
“While I’m disappointed with today’s result, we must now unite as one Republican party to defeat Andy Beshear in November,” she said.
Of a dozen candidates in the Kentucky GOP gubernatorial primary, Cameron, Commissioner of Crafts and Agriculture Ryan Quarles emerged as the top contenders.
The competition was fierce, with Cameron and Kraft shooting each other for months.
Trump and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell backed Cameron, a former McConnell staffer.
But Kraft, a former U.S. ambassador to Canada and later to the United Nations under the Trump administration, poured millions of dollars of her family’s money into the race.
On Monday, she received a late approval from Florida’s governor. Ron DeSantis turning the primary into a proxy war of sorts ahead of DeSantis’ likely looming showdown with Trump in the 2024 Republican presidential primaries. Meanwhile, Trump spoke at a televised rally in support of Cameron on Sunday night.
Kraft downplayed Trump’s support for Cameron, noting that it came when she was not officially in the race.
Cameron, in a debate earlier this month, responded by pointing out that the former president attended the Kentucky Derby with Kraft last year and backed Cameron a few weeks later.
“Kelly, you’ve been telling people for six months that you’re going to get Donald Trump’s approval. You saw him at the Derby last year. And then I got approval. And your team has been climbing ever since,” Cameron said at a debate hosted by Kentucky Educational Television.
Kraft has leaned towards attacking transgender rights, criticizing what she calls “awakening ideology” in schools.
“We won’t have transgender people in our school system,” she said Monday during a phone call with City Hall, a remark that drew criticism from LGBTQ rights advocates in Kentucky.
For his part, Quarles sought to win over voters who might be repelled by the publicity battle between Cameron and Kraft.
“It’s important that the Republicans come up with a candidate who can unite the party,” he said during a debate in early May.
While the gubernatorial race is Kentucky’s top contest in 2023, Republican Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams, a vocal advocate for the state’s electoral practices, will win the GOP primary, CNN predicts.
Adams fended off a challenge from Steven Knipper, an IT project manager who made false allegations of voter fraud in the state of Bluegrass, and former state legislator Allen Marikle.
Adams will be the clear favorite as he takes on former Democratic Rep. Buddy Whitley in November, whose party’s nomination is unopposed.
This story and title has been updated with additional events.