GOP candidates make final pitches to challenge Beshear, one week before primary
Three of the 12 candidates vying for the Republican nomination underscored their anti-abortion and pro-gun stances on Tuesday, while diverging in their positions on specific legislative proposals.
The debate, hosted by FOX 56 News in Lexington, was one of the last chances for voters to hear from candidates ahead of the May 16 primary election. It featured only three of the 12 candidates running to be the Republican nominee: Attorney General Daniel Cameron, Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles and former attorney Eric Deters.
Former United Nations ambassador Kelly Craft declined an invitation to attend. Cameron and Craft are the presumptive frontrunners in the race.
The overarching message at the debate was the importance of unseating incumbent Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear in the November general election – something each candidate claimed he was most equipped to do.
“We need to nominate the Republican that has the best chance of beating Andy Beshear this fall,” Quarles said, adding that he thinks he’s the “fighter” who’s up to the test.
Earlier on Tuesday, a federal jury found former President Donald Trump liable for battery and defamation in the lawsuit brought by writer E. Jean Carroll. The jurors agreed Trump "sexually abused" Carroll and defamed her when he refuted her story.
When asked if they would continue to support Trump in the 2024 presidential primary in light of this verdict, Cameron and Quarles talked around the question, saying the details of the verdict are still unclear. Trump endorsed Cameron for the gubernatorial nomination.
Deters, however, explicitly affirmed his support for Trump.
“I’m the only one who has defended Donald Trump, and as you’re witnessing tonight, the only one who will continue defending Donald Trump,” Deters said.
Another key issue discussed at the debate: Kentucky’s expansive abortion restrictions. Neither Cameron nor Quarles directly offered their stances on exceptions to Kentucky’s abortion ban in cases of rape. Deters, on the other hand, said he would support a bill introduced by Republican Rep. Jason Nemes in this year’s legislative session that would make rape and incest legal expections to the state’s abortion ban.
Tuesday’s debate came one day after Craft made explicit anti-transgender remarks during a virtual town hall on Monday, an escalation in her anti-trans rhetoric in the lead-up to the primary election. Craft said Kentucky would “not have transgenders in our school system” if she were elected governor, according to a transcript of the town hall reported by the Lexington Herald Leader.
A poll released last month by Emerson College and FOX 56 indicated Craft has cut into Cameron’s lead, now trailing behind him by just six percentage points. The poll placed Quarles in third place.
Last week, frontrunners Cameron and Craft appeared together for a debate hosted by KET, during which the candidates attacked one another over campaign finance issues. At that debate, candidates largely refrained from supporting any type of gun control measure.
Tuesday’s debate continued discussions of gun violence prevention, following the shooting last month at Louisville’s Old National Bank, which killed five people.
Cameron advocated for putting a Kentucky State Police post in Jefferson County, and said he would not support overturning a law that requires state police to auction off confiscated guns. Quarles echoed Cameron’s continued support for auctioning confiscated guns, a state policy some Louisville leaders have railed against in the wake of the April mass shooting.
Deters called for the complete opposite of gun control measures, claiming that arming more citizens – not fewer – would help prevent gun violence.
Earlier on Tuesday, the Jefferson County Board of Education voted to approve a new artificial intelligence weapons detection system, to be installed in schools across the county. Security experts are raising concerns about the company that makes this technology – but Quarles said he supports its implementation as a school safety measure.
Cameron and Deters both said they will accept the outcome of the election next week. Deters, however, refused to say he would concede.
Election Day is May 16, though voters can cast ballots early between Thursday and Saturday this week. Beshear has two minor challengers in the primary election and is expected to easily win the Democratic nomination.