Daniel Cameron defeated Ryan Quarles, Kelly Craft, and nine other candidates in the Republican primary for governor of Kentucky on May 16. Cameron will face incumbent Gov. Andy Beshear (D) in the general election on Nov. 7.
Cameron received 47% of the vote to Quarles’ 22% and Craft’s 18%. The three led in polling and media attention throughout the race.
Ahead of the primary, the Associated Press’ Bruce Schreiner wrote that “[t]he top contenders often sound[ed] alike on core GOP issues. They support gun rights, oppose abortion and demand more parental input in school policies.”
Cameron was first elected attorney general in 2019, when he defeated Gregory Stumbo (D) 58% to 42%. Cameron previously worked as a law clerk and legal counsel to U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell (R). President Donald Trump (R) endorsed Cameron in June 2022. Following the endorsement, Cameron said, “With President Trump’s support, we are more ready than ever to take on the Beshear-Biden agenda that is failing our families and doesn’t reflect the values of our 120 counties.”
Quarles, a former state representative, has served as Kentucky’s Commissioner of Agriculture since 2016. In a statement on his campaign website, Quarles said, “Kentucky deserves a Governor who knows what a hard day’s work looks like. Whether it was getting mud on my boots at the farm or teaching our next generations, I believe I will be that Governor.” Quarles had the endorsements of four state senators, 22 state representatives, and other local state officials.
Craft served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations under Trump from 2019 to 2021 and as U.S. Ambassador to Canada from 2017 to 2019. In a campaign ad, Kelly said, “I’m unapologetic about being pro-life, defending our veterans, and defending our second amendment.” U.S. Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R), and Vivek Ramaswamy endorsed Craft.
Heading into the primary, Vox’ Ben Jacobs wrote that Cameron’s key advantage was Trump’s endorsement. “The former president issued an endorsement of Cameron in 2022 which the state attorney general has heavily touted in recent weeks,” Jacobs wrote.
“In contrast,” wrote Jacobs, “Craft’s biggest advantage is her personal wealth. Her husband Joe Craft is a billionaire coal mogul. She has loaned her campaign almost $10 million this year and her husband has spent $1.5 million to fund the superPAC that supports her.”
Quarles, according to The New York Times’ Nick Corasaniti, “has aggressively campaigned in rural stretches of the state, racking up more than 235 endorsements from local officials, including county judges, mayors and magistrates.”
The outcome of the general election will determine the state’s trifecta status for at least the next year (with legislative elections scheduled for 2024). The state currently has a divided government: Democrats control the governorship, and Republicans control both legislative chambers. The Cook Political Report rates the general election Lean D.
The lieutenant governor is also up for election. In Kentucky, gubernatorial and lieutenant governor candidates run as a ticket. Gubernatorial candidates have until Aug. 8 to designate a running mate.
Kentucky—alongside Kansas, Louisiana, and North Carolina—was one of four states with a Democratic governor that President Donald Trump (R) won in 2020. That year, Trump defeated Joe Biden (D) 62% to 36% in the state. The last Democratic presidential nominee to carry the state was former President Bill Clinton in 1996.
At the state level, Democratic governors had led Kentucky for 64 of the past 76 years. The state had elected three Republican governors since World War II, each serving single terms from 1967 to 1971, 2003 to 2007, and 2015 to 2019.
Jacob Clark, David Cooper, Bob DeVore, Eric Deters, Mike Harmon, Alan Keck, Dennis Ray Ormerod, Johnny Ray Rice, and Robbie Smith also ran in the primary.
Kentucky also held elections for Attorney General, Secretary of State, Treasurer, Auditor of Public Accounts, and Commissioner of Agriculture on Tuesday, as well as a special election for State Senate District 28.