On the campaign trail with Republicans who want to be Kentucky’s next governor

New independent poll shows 1 in 5 GOP voters undecided as May 16 primary nears

By: - April 14, 2023 7:56 am

Daniel Cameron takes a photo with a supporter during a Wednesday campaign stop in Jeffersontown. (Kentucky Lantern photo by McKenna Horsley)

As a new poll shows Republican Kelly Craft gaining on frontrunner Daniel Cameron, the two Republican candidates for governor earlier this week sparred over the importance of former President Donald Trump’s endorsement in the race. 

The former president has endorsed Attorney General Cameron but did appoint Craft to her two ambassadorships. 

Craft said Wednesday after an Elizabethtown campaign stop that her endorsements come from the Kentuckians she wants to represent, such as those facing the opioid crisis and Kentucky’s children in schools, and also that she was not an announced candidate when Trump endorsed Cameron.

“My endorsement comes from people here. It comes from every corner of the state. Those are my endorsements, but what’s really important is President Trump did not make a choice. I wasn’t in the race.” 

When asked about the endorsement later that day at a rally in Jeffersontown, Cameron said: “Kelly Craft spent six months before she jumped in the race telling people she was going to get the Trump endorsement. … I got the Trump endorsement and she’s been in freefall ever since.”

However, new polling suggests Craft is gaining on Cameron’s lead in the race. A FOX 56/Emerson College poll released Thursday evening shows Cameron leading Republican voters 30.1% to 23.9% over Craft. Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles polled at 14.9%.

In January, a Mason-Dixon Polling Strategy firm poll showed Cameron leading Craft 39% to 13%. 

The latest poll shows 20.7% of voters are still undecided. 

 Campaigns have just 32 days until the primary to reach potential voters. At the polls Republicans will face a ballot with 12 candidates for governor. 

Craft makes stops with Comer, Gaines

Kelly Craft, right, and Riley Gaines, left, pose for photos during a Louisville campaign stop on Monday. (Kentucky Lantern photo by McKenna Horsley)

Craft has been campaigning this week with U.S. Rep. James Comer and former University of Kentucky swimmer Riley Gaines, a crusader against what her website calls “the woke left and their gender-denying ideology.”

Comer told a crowd gathered in an Elizabethtown pizza parlor on Wednesday that Craft is responsive to his calls and focused on the state’s economy. He highlighted that her husband, Joe Craft, leads one of the largest employers in his congressional district, Alliance Resource Partners. 

Comer also praised Craft for renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement as ambassador to Canada. 

“From an economic development standpoint, from a standpoint of knowing how to make payroll, how to balance the budget, Kelly Craft has checked every box as far as I’m concerned for governor and I think she is clearly the best candidate to lead our state in the future,” Comer said. 

Comer, who was recently named the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability, traveled with Craft on Wednesday to Paducah, Elizabethtown and Danville and on Thursday to Lexington and Corbin. 

Earlier in the week, Craft was joined by former UK swimmer Gaines in Newport, Louisville and Bowling Green.

The 12-time All-American swimmer briefly told a Louisville crowd that she supported Craft because “she’s a devout Christian, someone who has no ties” before the two spoke with attendees individually. 

Gaines has been a vocal opponent of the inclusion of trans women in women’s swimming since she tied with transgender swimmer Lia Thomas for fifth place in the women’s 200-meter freestyle final at the 2022 NCAA swimming and diving championships. 

CNN reported Gaines has spoken about her stance in previous campaign ads for former U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker and at a Trump rally. 

Comer told reporters Wednesday that he hasn’t spoken to Trump since he left the White House. He’s currently the only member of Kentucky’s congressional delegation to give support to a candidate in the Republican primary. 

“I’ve had several people reach out over the past two years wanting to set up a meeting with Trump. I was like, ‘No, I’m focused on leading this investigation of President Biden so I don’t feel comfortable meeting with his political opponents.’ So I’ve stayed out of that,” Comer said. “But I told Kelly I would be for her or against her whichever would help her the most.”

Quarles opens campaign headquarters

Ryan Quarles, middle, cuts the ribbon on his campaign headquarters Saturday. (Kentucky Lantern photo by McKenna Horsley)

Almost a year after announcing his gubernatorial run in his hometown of Georgetown, Ryan Quarles opened his campaign headquarters in the community last Saturday. 

Surrounded by campaign staff, volunteers and other supporters, the agriculture commissioner said between 300,000 and 325,000 are expected to vote in the primary election next month. 

Focusing on a grassroots-style campaign, his team has knocked on about 6,000 doors a week since February. He encouraged his supporters to make phone calls and spread messages via “old fashioned word of mouth”

“We think that we have the best chance of beating Andy Beshear this fall, and it starts right now,” Quarles said before cutting the ribbon on the office. 

As for the weeks ahead, Quarles said he plans to participate in “all the major debates.” 

“I’m a candidate who shows up,” Quarles said, “a candidate that I believe deserves the opportunity to get in front of voters so they can ask me questions about where I stand on issues, and I’m a retail statesman. I want to get out to all 120 counties.”

Next week, Republican candidates are expected to head to Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce’s Republican gubernatorial forum on Tuesday and to Louisville on Wednesday for the Kentucky Sports Radio debate. 

Yard signs for Ryan Quarles’ gubernatorial campaign are stacked together in his Georgetown headquarters. (Kentucky Lantern photo by McKenna Horsley)

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McKenna Horsley
McKenna Horsley

McKenna Horsley covers state politics for the Kentucky Lantern. She previously worked for newspapers in Huntington, West Virginia, and Frankfort, Kentucky. She is from northeastern Kentucky.