LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear won his party’s nomination Tuesday for a second term and awaited the winner of a contentious Republican primary that will determine his challenger in November.
The 12-candidate GOP field includes Daniel Cameron, the state’s first Black attorney general, and Kelly Craft, who served as United Nations ambassador in the Trump administration. Former President Donald Trump put his backing behind Cameron, while Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, considered a top Trump rival in the 2024 race, made a last-minute endorsement of Craft.
Beshear easily dispatched two under-the-radar challengers in his own primary.
The November general election will test the strength of a popular Democratic governor in a state dominated by Republicans. Beshear’s first term has been marked by a series of tragedies — the COVID-19 pandemic, natural disasters and a mass shooting that killed one of his closest friends — and through it all he has forged an identity as the state’s consoler in chief.
Whoever gets the most votes in Tuesday’s Republican primary will be the GOP nominee because there is no runoff rule. Turnout was light in many locations as rain fell across much of the state during part of the day, the secretary of state’s office said. Storm warnings were issued in some areas but there were no reports of voting disruptions, it said. Election officials hoped for an upswing in turnout after the storms passed.
Beshear also has presided over record economic growth and will draw upon his family’s strong political brand — his father, Steve Beshear, is a former two-term Kentucky governor. Andy Beshear has received consistently high voter approval ratings, and his bid for another four-year term has garnered national attention as a possible model for how Democrats can thrive in a state dominated by Republicans.
Some political observers say a win in November could vault the governor to the forefront of his party nationally based on his ability to navigate treacherous political territory.
Beshear won the governorship in 2019, defeating Republican incumbent Matt Bevin. If Beshear follows his campaign formula from four years ago, he will avoid talking about Trump or dwelling on polarizing national issues that risk further energizing his opponent’s conservative base.
Besides Cameron and Craft, the GOP contest primary includes state Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, state Auditor Mike Harmon and Somerset Mayor Alan Keck. Quarles, offering a methodical, workmanlike approach to campaigning, was hoping that support he had built through nearly two terms in statewide office would help him surge past his two main rivals. He nabbed a number of endorsements from local GOP officials.
But it was the bitter rivalry between Cameron and Craft that dominated the campaign. Cameron came under attack from an advertising blitz by Craft’s campaign — backed by her family’s fortune in the coal mining industry — and an outside group. The pro-Craft group portrayed Cameron as an “establishment teddy bear” in claiming he wasn’t tough enough as attorney general. A pro-Cameron group swung back with attacks against Craft.
Cameron is the state’s first Black attorney general and would make history again in November if he becomes its first Black governor.
Beshear, known as a disciplined campaigner, mostly avoided the public fray during the primary campaign, except when he was asked to respond to attacks from Republican candidates. He made his case to Kentucky voters with a low-key campaign as he approaches the conclusion of a turbulent term.
His campaign surpassed $7 million in fundraising as he prepared for a tough reelection race. Facing token opposition in his party’s primary, Beshear kept most of his campaign cash in reserve as the GOP campaign grew costlier and edgier.
Cameron has been an active attorney general, leading a successful challenge that essentially halted the governor’s COVID-era restrictions. But his handling of an investigation into the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor by Louisville police in 2020 could come under renewed scrutiny in a general election campaign.
In announcing a grand jury’s findings in Taylor’s death, Cameron said jurors “agreed” that homicide charges were not warranted against the officers, because they were fired upon. Three of the jurors disputed Cameron’s account, arguing that Cameron’s staff limited their scope and did not give them an opportunity to consider homicide charges against the police in Taylor’s death.
Craft, meanwhile, is angling to make a successful transition from party activist to political candidate. She had spent years cultivating connections within the GOP as she and her husband, coal magnate Joe Craft, donated millions of dollars to Republican candidates.
She served as ambassador to Canada and later as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during Trump’s term in the White House. Craft flexed her family’s financial power during the primary campaign, lending her campaign more than $9 million.
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