GOP nominee stresses values in campaign pitch in Kentucky gubernatorial campaign

Kentucky Attorney General and Republican candidate for Governor, Daniel Cameron speaks to supporters during the first stop of his multi-city campaign tour in Richmond, Ky., Friday, June 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

RICHMOND, Ky. — Kentucky’s campaign showdown for governor boils down to stark differences in vision and values, Republican nominee Daniel Cameron declared Friday as he urged conservatives to “make a stand” by ousting the Democratic incumbent in the November election.

Cameron delved into hot-button social issues while trying to link his opponent, incumbent Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, to President Joe Biden and other national Democrats in a hard-hitting speech.

Cameron, the state’s attorney general, made a multicity campaign swing setting the tone for his election bid in what’s shaping up as a five-month slugfest against Beshear. Cameron declared that “the game is on” as the former college football player plunged into general election campaigning.

“This race really is about two different visions for Kentucky,” Cameron told supporters. “You’ve got a governor right now whose vision for Kentucky and whose values are not aligned with the folks here in Madison County and does not reflect the values of the men, women and children of all 120 counties.”

Cameron didn’t offer many specifics about those differences, though he did draw on a national Republican campaign theme for this year when he tried to connect Beshear to a “gender ideology curriculum” that the Republican challenger said is “making its way” into classrooms. He also blamed Beshear for what he said were rising crime rates, echoing another national GOP talking point. He did not mention that as the state’s attorney general he is its chief law enforcement officer.

Cameron picked the college town of Richmond in Madison County to start his day of public campaigning, in his first high-profile tour since decisively winning a crowded GOP gubernatorial primary in mid-May. Beshear narrowly carried Madison County four years ago in defeating a GOP incumbent to win the governorship, and the county south of Lexington looks to be a battleground again in November.

Beshear, meanwhile, traveled to Taylor County on Friday to unveil signs naming a portion of highway after a late Republican legislative leader. A Democratic governor trying to win a second term in a state that has become dominated by Republicans, he has consistently stressed values over party ideology in his campaign rhetoric so far.

Beshear also has worked to pre-empt the prospect of a vitriolic campaign, predicting in a post-primary interview that his GOP opponents would resort to “name-calling, stoking division, trying to incite fear or anger or maybe even hatred.”

Responding to Cameron’s speech Friday, Beshear campaign spokesperson Alex Floyd said the governor has “consistently led with the Kentucky values of compassion and integrity.”

Looking to nationalize the Kentucky contest, Cameron said a second Beshear term would result in “doubling down” on policies promoted by Biden. As attorney general, Cameron has joined a bevy of lawsuits challenging the Biden administration on immigration, COVID, energy and other policies.

“Together we can make sure that this commonwealth reflects who we are,” Cameron said Friday. “And those crazy notions that are trying to creep into this state from the far left, we can push back against that. But we have to make a stand in November.”

Cameron was endorsed early in the primary by former President Donald Trump, and Republicans are trying to score points in Republican-leaning Kentucky by connecting Beshear with Biden, who was trounced by Trump in the Bluegrass State in 2020. If Beshear follows his campaign formula from 2019, he will avoid talking about Trump or dwelling on polarizing national issues that could risk further energizing his opponent’s conservative base.

Cameron’s speech mirrored his stump speech during the primary campaign, when he had the advantage as the clear frontrunner to set his sights on Beshear.

Beshear, who faced nominal opposition in his party’s primary, charged out of the gate immediately after the primary election. Beshear took a statewide bus tour and launched a TV ad stressing record economic development gains during his term and the state’s resilience after being hit by tornadoes and flooding. Meanwhile, a group tied to the Democratic Governors Association ran an attack ad against Cameron.

Cameron slammed the governor’s pandemic policies, picking up one of his primary campaign themes.

“His first priority was to shut our state down,” Cameron said. “And when he shut our state down, he picked winners and losers. If you were a big business or big corporation, you got to stay open. But if you were a Main Street business, a small business, you had to shut down.”

Cameron led the successful challenge in court that led to a drastic rollback of the governor’s COVID-era restrictions, which Cameron said amounted to executive overreach. Beshear says that his actions saved lives and that he leaned heavily on guidance from Trump’s coronavirus task force.

Cameron on Friday blamed the governor directly for a crime rate that he said has “increased exponentially” in Kentucky’s largest cities during Beshear’s tenure. As the state’s chief law enforcement officer, Cameron later refused to take any responsibility for rising crime when asked about the issue.