The two Republican frontrunners in Kentucky’s governor’s race finally appeared on the same debate stage Monday, launching attacks at each other during a fiery KET debate.
Monday night marked the first time that Attorney General Daniel Cameron and former United Nations Ambassador Kelly Craft appeared in a debate together. A recent FOX 56/Emerson poll showed Cameron leading the crowded Republican field with Craft about 6.2 points behind him in second place.
The two, as well as PACs supporting them, have been sparring for weeks in ads and on the campaign trail. On Monday morning, those digs were the subject of a New York Times profile of the race for the Republican nomination, which Republican voters will decide May 16.
KET invited the five who appeared Monday night based on its candidate criteria, which include reported expenditures of at least $100,000.
Suspended Northern Kentucky Attorney Eric Deters appeared for the first time with Cameron and Craft after facing Republican candidates Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles and Somerset Mayor Alan Keck at a debate in Deter’s home region of Northern Kentucky last week.
The front runners began throwing attacks at one another about halfway through the debate with Deters at times siding with Cameron or criticizing all of the others on stage.
Cameron touted his many law enforcement endorsements and said that Craft had one. In response, Craft criticized him for “allowing” the U.S. Department of Justice, led by Attorney General Merrick Garland, to oversee the Louisville Metro Police Department.
After the police shooting that killed Breonna Taylor, the Justice Department opened an investigation that found a pattern of civil rights violations including use of excessive force by Louisville police. The city has agreed to make improvements under a court-enforceable consent decree with an independent monitor.
“What does that say about backing the blue?” Craft asked Cameron. “We need to have complete confidence in our law enforcement.”
Cameron repeated his law enforcement endorsements and criticized Craft for funding her campaign with personal wealth.
“Kelly has somehow sort of made a determination that I could have stood at the Ohio River and told the Department of Justice they couldn’t come into the state. She’s either naive or doesn’t understand how the process (works).”
While Quarles and Keck didn’t get many comments in during the debate’s more heated moments, they took the opportunity to disavow political infighting.
“Quite honestly, the last 10 minutes are why people are sick of politics in America. It’s ‘he said, she said.’ We’re going to spend a pile of money to tear each other down,” Keck said during the debate. “I want a Kentucky where we lift each other up and get stuff done.”
“I felt that I brought a temperament that Kentucky needs to see as the next governor, someone who’s going to unite us together,” Quarles told reporters after the debate.
Earlier Monday, Deters filed a residency challenge against Craft, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader. Last week, he alleged that voter records show that Craft and her husband Joe Craft, a coal company executive, were living in Oklahoma until recently. However, the Herald-Leader reported that the former United Nations Ambassador has been registered to vote in Fayette County since 1991, initially registering as a Democrat before becoming a Republican in 1995.
Craft called Deters’ challenge “absolutely not true” and said that her residency was vetted when she was appointed to her ambassadorships. When asked, she added that she did not have dual residency in Oklahoma, where coal company Alliance Resource Partners is headquartered. Her husband Joe Craft is the company’s president and chief executive officer.
Kentucky Tonight host Renee Shaw, who moderated the debate, asked Quarles, Keck, and Deters who won the 2020 presidential election. Before she could pose the question to Craft and Cameron, they started arguing over donations from Pace-O-Matic to Cameron’s campaign and Joe Craft’s donation to a PAC supporting Kelly Craft. Pace-O-Matic manufactures gambling machines that Kentucky just outlawed; Cameron has recused himself from a lawsuit filed by the company, although his office is defending the new law.
Keck said sitting President Joe Biden won. Deters said former President Donald Trump won.
Quarles did not give a straight answer during the debate, responding that Trump “won big in Kentucky” and “there’s reason to question some” parts of that election around the country.
“I think Joe Biden is our president and that he won the election,” Quarles told reporters after the debate. “And that, in that year in Kentucky, President Trump won big, but we also do know that any allegation of voter fraud is one too many in America.”
When pressed about whether he thought there were cases of voter fraud that cost Trump in 2020, Quarles said he “can’t speak for what happened in other states.”
Ahead of the debate, Republican Party of Kentucky Chair Mac Brown released a statement calling for unity after the primary election in a couple of weeks. He invited gubernatorial candidates to attend a “post-primary unity event” and show support for the party nominee, who will face one of America’s most popular governors according to polling, incumbent Democrat Andy Beshear.
“Once our nomination process is concluded, the Republican Party stands ready to lead Kentucky forward, and with the momentum of this voter registration advantage behind us, we are confident that we can win in November,” Brown said.
Written by McKenna Horsley. Cross-posted from the Kentucky Lantern.