Wednesday, September 27, 2023
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Cameron wins Republican gubernatorial primary in Kentucky, will face Beshear in November

Dreary weather that included rain and storms across large portions of the commonwealth drove down turnout Tuesday.

(CN) — Attorney General Daniel Cameron and incumbent Governor Andy Beshear secured their parties' nominations for November's general election amidst a projected 10-15% turnout for the gubernatorial primary Tuesday, an outcome ensured by dismal weather.

Polls closed at 6 p.m. Eastern in the central and eastern portions of the state, while all voting concluded at 7 p.m. Eastern.

As results began to come in, Beshear took a sizeable and expected lead over challengers Geoff Young and Peppy Martin. The race was immediately called after polls closed in the western portions of the state. As of 8 p.m., Beshear had 92% of the vote.

Cameron secured the Republican party slot shortly after Beshear locked up his nomination, with the race called around 7:15 p.m. Eastern. The state attorney general had 46% of the vote, followed by Agricultural Commissioner Ryan Quarles with 22%.

Kelly Craft, former U.S. Ambassador under President Donald Trump, is in third place with 17% of the total.

It's no surprise Cameron and Craft were near the top of the first wave of results, given the two candidates not only polled higher but also outspent their primary opponents.

A final primary poll released by Emerson College on Sunday showed Cameron with 33% of the support from Republican voters and a sizeable lead over Craft, who registered second with 18% support.

The poll also showed nearly 13% of the 500 likely Republican voters were undecided just days before the election.

Gauging support for each candidate in the northern part of the commonwealth was difficult, as voters seemed particularly reluctant to discuss their Election Day decisions.

Courthouse News visited three different polling locations in Campbell County, a Republican stronghold near Cincinnati, but was didn’t obtain comments from several dozen voters as they dodged questions and raindrops alike on their way out of the sites.

Craft, former U.S. Ambassador to Canada and the United Nations during the Trump administration, outpaced every other candidate in this election cycle on the fundraising front, Republican or otherwise, primarily by tapping into her wealth.

She donated nearly $10 million to her gubernatorial primary campaign, which has spent a Kentucky-record $9.6 million in the race.

Her husband, coal executive and billionaire Joe Craft, also donated over $1.5 million to Commonwealth PAC, although she claims he donated without her knowledge.

Beshear was the second-leading fundraiser with a disclosed total of over $7 million, although he has been able to save the vast majority of that war chest for the general election. At the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance filing deadline on May 3, Beshear reported spending less than $900,000 on the primary.

Madison Reeser, 26, of Highland Heights, told Courthouse News she spent time researching candidates on both sides of the ballot and ultimately cast her vote in the Democratic primary for Beshear.

"I voted for him again because I thought everything he did during the pandemic and everything he has done afterwards has been great for the state," she said.

Reeser said she voted because she felt compelled to "do her civic duty."

"A lot of people don't vote in the primary because they think it doesn't matter, but it really does,” she said. “There were a lot of Republican candidates ... and when you want to narrow it down, it really does matter."

Cameron, former legal counsel to Senator Mitch McConnell, spent more than $1.1 million in the primary campaign and was financed heavily by PACs, including Bluegrass Freedom Action.

Quarles raised far less money than his opponents but led every candidate when it comes to in-state contributions, likely the result of a grassroots campaign that included a "little red truck" that toured every corner of the state to drum up support.

Cameron and Craft traded barbs in a sometimes nasty campaign focused primarily on the culture war with "woke" liberals, whom both candidates cast as an invading force bent on upending the state's education system and core family values.

Craft made headlines in the days leading up to Tuesday's primary when she told voters that, if elected governor, "we will not have transgenders in our school system."

While her campaign later clarified the comment and said Craft "has been advocating for the best for all children," the sound bite was indicative of the former ambassador’s narrative.

Cameron reluctantly engaged Craft on hot-button issues throughout the primary season, but leaned on his experience and an endorsement from Craft's former employer, President Donald Trump, to gain an edge in the race and eventually win the nomination.

Quarles was seemingly content to let his opponents duke it out when it came to cultural issues and instead positioned himself as the "ideas" candidate "who knows what a hard day's work looks like."

Democrat Secretary of State Michael Adams reported on Monday that early voter turnout in the Bluegrass State was down nearly 20% from the previous year, while 40% fewer Kentuckians requested absentee ballots when compared to 2022.

He cited fewer concerns about Covid-19 and a general decline in turnout as reasons for the low numbers.

Adams put the total number of early and absentee votes at 88,838, 24% less than the previous election cycle.

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