Attorney General Daniel Cameron appeared in Northern Kentucky Thursday evening for a Meet and Greet to appeal to Republican voters about why he should win the nomination and face Democratic incumbent Andy Beshear in November’s general election.
Cameron ran through numerous campaign talking points, such as his fight as attorney general against the opioid and fentanyl scourge in the Commonwealth, his fight against Gov. Beshear over the COVID-19 shutdowns, and concern that top Democrats in Washington and Kentucky are causing friction with the values of average Kentuckians.
Kenton County Prosecutor Rob Sanders hosted the meet and greet, along with Northern Kentucky Attorney Chris Wiest, and former state House Rep. Addia Wuchner — now the Executive Director of Kentucky Right to Life — at Smoke Justis in Covington.
Cameron’s visit comes roughly ten days after his top challenger in the GOP primary, Kelly Craft, appeared in Newport. In the latest poll put out by Fox 56 and Emerson College, Craft gained on Cameron and now sits just six points behind him at 24% to Cameron’s 30% ahead of the May 16 primary.
Both Republican visits highlight the region’s significance in winning the governor’s election, and it’s something that former Republican Gov. Matt Bevin perhaps took for granted, according to Wiest.
“I think Matt Bevin lost in Northern Kentucky due to self-inflicted wounds,” Wiest said.
Bevin attacked teachers and advocated for tolls on the Brent Spence Bridge project, which infuriated liberty Republicans, Republicans, and everyone, according to Wiest.
Bevin cruised to victory in 2015 and received a strong showing in Northern Kentucky.
In Kenton County, he received 56% of the vote, and in Campbell County, 54%.
In 2019, Beshear flipped both Campbell and Kenton counties. In Campbell, Beshear received 52% of the vote, and he received 49.5% in Kenton County.
Bevin also lost ground in Boone County — a Republican stronghold in the state — and one that might be crucial in the 2023 election — specifically amongst liberty-aligned Republicans.
Wiest noted a significant shift in state politics in 2022 when three prominent NKY state House Reps. Adam Koenig, Ed Massey, and Sal Santoro all lost their primary races to liberty-aligned candidates to current Reps. Steve Doan (R-Erlanger), Steve Rawlings (R-Burlington), and Marianne Proctor (R-Union).
That shift might play out in the governor’s race.
Wiest spoke in Boone County last summer when liberty-aligned Rep. Savannah Maddox (R-Dry Ridge) announced her gubernatorial bid. Maddox dropped out of the race, and Wiest is now throwing his support behind Cameron — someone Wiest said he’s worked with on fighting Beshear’s office over COVID-19 shutdowns and Biden lawsuits.
“I don’t think we get people that have walked the walk elsewhere in this field,” Wiest said.
Northern Kentucky is also in the Congressional District for U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie — the top ranking liberty Republican in the region and one of most prominent in Congress.
Boone County Republicans were well-represented at Smoke Justis in Covington, including Rawlings, Proctor, Circuit Court Judge Richard Brueggemann, and Bill Kunkel — a leader in the county party.
Kunkel told Cameron and the crowd when he’s putting out signs — he won an award from the Boone County Republican Party for putting out more than 500 political signs during the fall midterms — he often hears questions about Cameron’s connection to Sen. Mitch McConnell, and said he wants to defend Cameron to voters.
Cameron attended the McConnell Scholar Program at the University of Louisville and has been considered a protege of the senior statesman.
Conversely, The Boone County Republican Party censured McConnell in 2022 — a symbolic move to show their disdain for Kentucky’s senior senator.
Cameron said his only allegiance was to the state constitution when Kunkel asked about that connection.
“I make decisions based on the law and based on our constitutional rights,” Cameron said.
Another angle to the liberty Republican equation in NKY is when House leadership removed several legislators from committees in the Kentucky statehouse at the end of the session.
Reps. Steve Doan (R-Erlanger), Felicia Rabourn (R-Pendleton) — Rabourn doesn’t represent NKY but is in the official NKY caucus — Mark Hart (R-Falmouth), and Rep. Kim Moser (R-Taylor Mill) were all removed from committees for allegedly speaking out against House leadership.
(Moser isn’t considered part of the liberty-aligned Republican group but was still removed for allegedly challenging leadership).
It prompted Rep. Thomas Massie to weigh in on state-level politics after the decision.
“Punishing dissension is short sighted and doing so in the last hours of the session has an air of pettiness that voters detest,” Massie wrote on Twitter.
Rawlings asked Cameron about his thoughts on the removal.
“What is your take on House leadership removing six representatives from their committees?” Rawlings asked.
“I don’t like it,” Cameron said.
Cameron also weighed in on certificate of need, which requires that healthcare institutions provide certain services and must first prove a communal need for such services before establishing facilities in an area.
In NKY, some say certificate of need has allowed St. Elizabeth a “monopoly.” However, the region’s largest health care system argues it enables them to provide a “safety net” to the area.
Certificate of need has been on the minds of Northern Kentuckians for years — regardless of political affiliation — but took an increased role in the region’s zeitgeist this year when Rep. Proctor and Sen. Gex Williams (R-Verona) filed several bills this past session that would get rid of certificate of need.
Cameron said he understands there is some nuance from talking with healthcare industry professionals. The nuance involves ensuring there’s enough coverage in rural areas, which is less of a problem in bigger cities, he said.
“But, I do support making sure that we get less and less C-O-Ns,” Cameron said.
Time will tell if Cameron’s message to NKYians will get him the GOP nomination. Still, Kenton County Commonwealth’s Attorney Sanders thinks the region allows Republican candidates to get in front of a concentrated number of Republican voters.
“We’re a large collection of Republican votes in a very small concentrated area, relatively speaking, compared to the rest of the state,” Sanders said.
Answering questions after the event, Cameron said the key to winning the region is showing up and letting people know you care about them and reminding voters that Beshear is not aligned with the region’s values.
“He’s out of step with the values of folks in Northern Kentucky,” he said.
Further, he said Beshear vetoed legislation banning transgender women from competing in women’s sports. He also pointed to the Kentucky Department of Education Commissioner Jason Glass, who he said was appointed by the Kentucky Board of Education which was appointed by Beshear.
“He’s out of step with the values of folks in Northern Kentucky when you have a commissioner at the Department of Education that cares more about gender ideology studies than reading and writing,” Cameron said.
Defeating the “woke” ideologies of the education department has been a talking point amongst candidates on the Republican campaign trail.
When asked how he would defeat “wokeism” and how he could prove through metrics or statistics that he accomplished that goal, Cameron said to ask on election night.
“Part of defeating ‘wokeism’ is defeating Andy Beshear in November,” Cameron said. “The second part of defeating ‘wokeism’ is making sure we remove Jason Glass as the commissioner of the Department of Education. And then from there, it’s about appointing members to the Board of Education that reflect the values for men, women, and children of our 120 counties.”
Whoever moves forward with the Republican nomination will have an uphill battle against Beshear’s reelection. A recent Morning Consult poll recently found Beshear to be the fifth most popular governor overall and the most popular Democratic governor in the country. The poll found 60% of Kentucky voters approve of Beshear’s governorship.
“Though half of Kentucky Republicans give Beshear negative marks, 46% give a thumbs-up to his handling of the job, making him the most popular Democratic governor with voters of the opposite party as well,” the poll says.