Warren County GOP hears from five Kentucky candidates for governor, one presidential hopeful

All agree they want to defeat Democrat Andy Beshear in November. Keynote speaker is Trump critic and candidate for president Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas.

By: - April 15, 2023 12:00 am

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, the Republican candidate for Kentucky governor. (Kentucky Lantern photo by Austin Anthony)

BOWLING GREEN — The Warren County Republican Party’s Lincoln Day Dinner brought five candidates in the Kentucky governor’s race and one presidential candidate, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, under one roof Friday night. 

Voicing unity in their quest to defeat Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear this fall, the gubernatorial candidates — Attorney General Daniel Cameron, former United Nations Ambassador Kelly Craft, Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, Somerset Mayor Alan Keck and State Auditor Mike Harmon — had three minutes apiece to deliver their messages.

An independent poll released Thursday night shows one in five Republicans still are undecided about who will get their vote in the May 16 primary. The Friday night event gave the candidates a chance to make an impression on party activists and near-certain primary voters.

Cameron, the frontrunner in the poll and the winner of former President Donald Trump’s endorsement, was the first to address the crowd and spoke of Monday’s mass shooting in Louisville, commending law enforcement officers’ response. 

Cameron’s remarks mirrored what he has been saying on the campaign trail. He criticized the “far left” both in Kentucky and Washington, D.C., which he said includes Beshear and legacy media outlets.

Cameron highlighted his defense in court of Kentucky’s abortion ban and lawsuits to reopen churches early in the COVID-19 pandemic when Beshear ordered a ban on in-person gatherings. State troopers were sent to some churches on Easter Sunday in 2020 to record license plate numbers. A federal appeals court recently upheld a ruling that awarded Maryville Baptist Church, the church that sued Beshear, more than $270,000 in attorney’s fees.

“In 2023, we have a transformational moment to say what kind of leadership we want going forward,” Cameron said. “We can either say that we want a governor whose mere presence in that office emboldens the far left or we can say that we want a governor who reflects the values of the men, women and children of all 120 counties.” 

Former U.N. Ambassador Kelly Craft returns to her seat after speaking during the Lincoln Day Dinner in Bowling Green. (Kentucky Lantern photo by Austin Anthony)

Before speaking, former United Nations Ambassador Kelly Craft said her message to the crowd would focus on issues she’s been hearing from Kentuckians. In her speech, she referenced her travel across Kentucky as part of her “Kitchen Table Tour,” her appointments from Trump — she was ambassador to Canada before the U.N. — and her views on education, the economy and the opioid crisis. 

She reiterated that she wants to “dismantle” the Kentucky Department of Education and rebuild it and her plans to fire “woke” Education Commissioner Jason Glass. That authority, however, lies with the Kentucky Board of Education. Craft vowed to have a “full court press” on drug dealers in the state.

The wife of a coal company CEO, Craft stressed her independence. “I have never been in politics. I’ve never run for office,” she said. “I’m not using this position to get to another elected office. I have never been owned by special interests and I will never be owned by special interests. I will be your governor.” 

Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles waits to speak during the Lincoln Day Dinner on Friday in Bowling Green. (Kentucky Lantern photo by Austin Anthony)

Going into the evening, Quarles said his goal was to talk about his ideas for supporting law enforcement, being tough on drugs, energy independence and reforming Kentucky’s education, which includes reforming classroom discipline. 

Quarles also planned to discuss “the damage that had occurred” during the coronavirus pandemic, such as business closings and students’ lower test scores,” and what he called Beshear’s “constitutional violations of our personal rights,” also referring to the 2020 Easter Sunday events. 

Referring to former two-term Gov. Steve Beshear, the current governor’s father, Quarles said, “One family, father and son, have ruled Kentucky … and what has happened? Our pensions have been weakened. Our education standards are about the same and our rankings of the state really haven’t gone up, and now they’re asking for four more years. Do we want a family dynasty in Kentucky or do we want to do something else?” 

Somerset Mayor Alan Keck speaks during the Lincoln Day Dinner on Friday in Bowling Green. (Kentucky Lantern photo by Austin Anthony)

Somerset Mayor Alan Keck, who’s distinguished himself in the crowded primary field with more moderate views, told the Kentucky Lantern he wanted to reiterate the “ radical ​​authenticity and transparency” of his campaign, as well as his experience being a businessman and serving in government. He is a graduate of Western Kentucky University, which is in Bowling Green. 

In his speech, he spoke about his dedication to his faith and family, as well as his record in Somerset. He said the city continued to have economic success during the coronavirus pandemic, but noted that as a state Kentuckians saw hardships. 

“We have to start asking ourselves, not just in Kentucky but as a country: What are we conserving?” Keck said. “Are we more free? Are we more safe? Are we more prosperous than the generation that came before us? And if the answer is no, then perhaps we need to do something a little different.” 

Tw-term state Auditor Mike Harmon waits to speak during the Lincoln Day Dinner in Bowling Green. (Kentucky Lantern photo by Austin Anthony)

Before the event began, Harmon said while he’s “not a polished politician,” he has the most state government experience of the primary candidates after being in the House of Representatives and finishing his second term as state auditor. In his remarks, he concentrated on his faith and patriotism. 

Harmon praised Kentucky lawmakers who passed what he called the “save our children omnibus bill,” referring to the passage and veto override of Senate Bill 150. The legislation has been called “the worst anti-trans bill in the nation”  by the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky.  

“When this primary’s over, we’ve all got to go together. We have all got to go together,” Harmon said. “Because  we’ve got one goal in 2023 — one goal— and that goal is to make Andy Beshear a one- term governor. That has to be our goal.” 

Warren County’s Lincoln Day Dinner seems to be one of the only places that Cameron, Craft, Quarles, Harmon and Keck will all be in the same room at once, according to announcements about upcoming debates and forums.

Cameron will not be participating in the Kentucky Sports Radio debate on Wednesday, despite host Matt Jones saying he will still have the seat open for him. The attorney general has a meet and greet scheduled in Manchester during the debate, followed by an Operation Fight Fentanyl forum in Hyden that afternoon. 

Craft, Quarles, Harmon and Keck will be at the KSR debate, Jones said in a tweet. 

On Tuesday, the Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce will host a Republican Gubernatorial Candidate Forum and Luncheon. According to the chamber’s website, Cameron, Harmon, Keck and Quarles have confirmed their attendance and Craft was invited but has not Twelve Republicans will be on the ballot in the May 16 primary election.. 

The evening’s keynote speaker was Hutchinson, who confirmed his 2024 presidential bid earlier this month. The two-term governor is widely considered a moderate Republican. He’s a prominent critic of former President Donald Trump. 

As news of Trump’s indictment by a Manhattan grand jury broke a couple of weeks ago, the top three Republicans in the Kentucky governor’s race disavowed the move as political. A FOX 56/Emerson College poll released Thursday evening found 61.5% of Kentucky Republican primary voters would support Trump in a 2024 presidential primary. 

“What I think is important for our party is that we have alternatives to Donald Trump and I think candidates who are running for President of the United States need to speak very clearly as to what your view of that is,” Hutchinson told reporters. “And I think we have too many candidates that say Trump is untouchable or we shouldn’t be distancing ourselves from Trump, and the fact is that if Biden has one chance of winning reelection, it would that if Trump was opposite of him.”

Presidential candidate, Trump critic and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson was the keynote speaker at the Lincoln Day Dinner on Friday at the National Corvette Museum. (Kentucky Lantern photo by Austin Anthony)

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

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.