4 of the highest 5 Republican candidates for Kentucky governor took the stage on Tuesday night time for a low-key first debate in one of many yr’s most closely-watched races.
State Lawyer Common Daniel Cameron, Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, Auditor Mike Harmon and Somerset, Ky., Mayor Alan Keck confronted off in Louisville.
Former U.N. Ambassador Kelly Craft declined an invite to the talk, which was organized by the Jefferson County Republican Occasion.
Probably the most recent race polls have been launched in January, with Cameron holding a large lead over different candidates. He took 39 p.c of respondents’ help, adopted by Craft at 13 p.c, Quarles at 8 p.c, Harmon at 5 p.c and Keck at 2 p.c.
Every candidate made their case for why they’d be the most effective candidate to tackle the favored Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear in November. The GOP main is Might 16.
The 4 candidates agreed on nearly all points addressed, with every stating that they’re pro-life, help the 2nd Modification, help reducing or eliminating earnings tax and growing help for academics, amongst different points.
In addition they agreed that the state ought to ban gender-affirming surgical procedure for minors with out parental consent, whereas Keck and Harmon went a step additional and likened these procedures to crimes.
Observers say the talk lacked the mandatory fireworks to upend the present standing of the Republican candidates.
“Cameron got here within the favourite and he left the favourite,” Kentucky GOP strategist Scott Jennings mentioned. “The one mentions of (Cameron) from the opposite candidates tonight have been to reward him. So long as that continues to be, none of them will catch him.”
Cameron targeted a lot of his time attacking President Biden and weighing in on nationwide political points. All through the night time, he leaned into Republican tradition struggle speaking factors, mentioning “important race concept” and calling social justice insurance policies “far-left indoctrination.”
Cameron additionally referenced Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R) as examples the state might observe, pointing to their help of parental affect over training and on social points.
Harmon and Quarles leaned on their religion, repeatedly mentioning the function of faith of their lives and the significance they consider it has for the state.
Keck carved a extra reasonable path, usually selecting to not go so far as fellow candidates on extra controversial political subjects. That features medical marijuana and sports activities betting legalization, which Keck mentioned he emphatically helps. All candidates mentioned they have been at the least open to legalization on these points, excluding Harmon on playing.
Jennings mentioned Keck could be hoping to get by way of the first with the help of extra reasonable voters.
“On this main, many of the voters dwell in and round Louisville and Lexington. There’s a reasonably respectable suburban cohort which I can see being drawn to a extra reasonable course,” he mentioned. “With a multi-headed discipline, no runoff provision, you don’t want 50 p.c of the vote to win. That technique is a reasonably provocative factor.”
The candidates have been every requested whether or not they help former President Donald Trump, who has endorsed Cameron within the race. The three different candidates tried to keep away from the query on whether or not the GOP ought to transfer on from Trump, every noting that the main focus needs to be on the 2023 race and never the 2024 one.
Keck went a step additional, calling out Trump’s affect on state politics.
“Somebody on this discipline wants to steer Kentucky. Whereas Donald Trump might endorse Mr. Cameron, and he has each proper to do it, he can’t come and save Kentucky,” he mentioned. “One in all us goes to have to steer, and I’m not trying backwards to 2020, I’m seeking to 2023.”
The 4 candidates seldomly attacked Beshear, who stays fashionable in red-state Kentucky, till the ultimate minutes of the talk. The identical January ballot discovered that Beshear has a 61 p.c approval ranking.
Candidates’ technique to deal with their very own coverage and marketing campaign largely positively might damage them come November, Jennings mentioned.
“Throughout a debate like this, each matter I’d have anticipated any person to pivot to ‘Right here’s why Beshear is improper on it, right here’s why I’m proper,’ however they only by no means actually did that,” he mentioned. “My recommendation to the campaigns is inform Republicans how you propose to beat Andy Beshear and why we’ve got to beat Andy Beshear, and that case is but to be made successfully.”
Democrats responded by calling consideration to the dearth of Beshear assaults and pointing to the governor’s document. Beshear has repeatedly touted the state’s record-low unemployment charge and the quantity of financial growth within the final 4 years.
“We heard plenty of noise and never plenty of substance, all meant to distract from the dearth of plans to ship actual options for Kentuckians and their households,” Colmon Elridge, the chair of the Kentucky Democratic Occasion, mentioned in an announcement after the talk. “Whereas Governor Beshear has an extended record of accomplishments … tonight I didn’t hear the GOP candidates discuss insurance policies or actions that might enhance the lives of Kentucky households.”