Looking over the landscape for this November’s elections, the top Republican target is likely a Democratic incumbent Governor in the deep-red commonwealth of Kentucky.
Gov. Andy Beshear, however, is an expert at squeezing out wins. In 2015, the son of popular former Governor Steve Beshear, won a closely-contested Attorney General race by just 2,194 votes (50.1% to 49.9%). Four years later, amid the early days of the first Impeachment of Donald Trump, Beshear won another razor-thin victory in the 2019 Gubernatorial contest. When it was all said and done, he won this race by a slightly larger 5,189 votes (49.2% to 48.8%).
Meanwhile, quite like his father, Governor Beshear also managed to become extraordinarily popular in this state despite his partisan affiliation. Take for example the latest Morning Consult survey testing the popularity of all 50 state Governors. They found Beshear scoring a 63% approval rating alongside a 32% disapproval rating. Not only was that the fifth-highest approval rating nationwide, it was also the highest approval number for any Democratic Governor throughout the U.S.
A dozen Republican candidates are competing for the chance to take on Gov. Beshear, with the May 16th primary now less than a month away. According to the polls, though, there are two top contenders who’ve pulled away from the rest of the pack: Attorney General Daniel Cameron and former UN Ambassador Kelly Craft.
At this moment, the GOP frontrunner is Gov. Beshear’s successor as Kentucky AG, Daniel Cameron. Cameron is already explicitly running against Beshear, criticizing his ties to the Biden White House and the COVID lockdowns the Governor instituted back in the spring of 2020. Cameron’s also going after the left, denouncing protesters who organized a sit-in on his front lawn as he weighed whether to charge the police officers who shot and killed Breanna Taylor. Cameron would eventually decide not to charge either of those officers.
Conversely, Craft is going after Cameron for not doing enough to protect Kentucky coal plants. In a pair of TV ads, Craft tries to paint Cameron as a job-killing environmentalist in league with Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Andy Beshear. It’s all part of a TV ad offensive that’s being fueled by $7 million worth of self-funding. In her other commercials, Craft appeals to reliable Republicans with issue spots on China, Critical Race Theory and Fentanyl.
Another frequent presence in Craft’s ads is former President Donald Trump, with his former UN Ambassador eager to include as many photos of herself with Trump as possible. No doubt she’s seeking to mitigate the endorsement the ex-President already gave to Cameron last year, a show of support the AG repeatedly points to in his own TV spots.
Nevertheless, polls show Craft’s TV barrage is working to some degree. Back in January, surveys showed Cameron with double-digit leads on Craft. Yet an April Emerson Poll put her just six points behind Cameron, 30% to 24%, with Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles a decent third at 15%.
In light of Craft’s boost, Cameron’s supporters are launching their own Super PAC to try and even out the air war. Their commercial devotes about equal time to slamming Craft and defending Cameron’s own bonafides, including two separate mentions of that Trump endorsement.
For now, thanks to his ties to both candidates. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is staying on the sidelines. Not only is Cameron a former McConnell staffer and protégé, but the Senator even attended Cameron’s 2020 wedding. On the other hand, Craft and her husband are long-time loyal donors, and McConnell lobbied Trump to name her his UN Ambassador. It remains to be seen whether Sen. McConnell, who only recently returned to the Senate after suffering a concussion, will be convinced to get off the fence and throw his support behind one or the other.
Kentucky’s primary is set for May 16th, the same day as primaries in Pennsylvania, including the Philadelphia Mayoral Democratic primary. As a result, it’s bound to be an exciting Election Night, so make sure you spend it tracking results on Decision Desk HQ! Then be sure to keep an eye out for my day-after recap of both races!