Kentucky’s Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron failed to flip the governor’s mansion red on Tuesday largely due to the issue of abortion and a lack of resources, state operatives and political strategists told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
Cameron lost to Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear by roughly 5 points after a contentious campaign, where he attempted to portray the governor as too liberal for the red state. Kentucky operatives and political strategists argued that the governor’s attacks on Cameron’s abortion stance and the significant discrepancy in fundraising likely led to the attorney general’s defeat.
“Andy Beshear raised a ton of money, and ran a very disciplined and effective campaign, particularly the attacks on Daniel were blistering and they stuck with it. And it worked. I mean, there’s no question about that,” Scott Jennings, a longtime GOP Kentucky adviser and veteran of numerous campaigns, told the DCNF. “Having that much money and those resources to do so much more than Daniel could do, and being able to attack him on numerous fronts while simultaneously driving a positive message about him, it worked.”
Beshear overwhelmingly out-raised Cameron for the two-man race, bringing in a total of $17 million compared to the attorney general‘s $3.9 million since May, according to the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance. The post-primary governor’s race attracted over $77 million in spending, $48 million of which came from Democrats and $30 million from Republicans, according to The Washington Post.
The Democratic National Committee transferred over $1.4 million in funds to the state party this year, according to the Federal Election Commission. The Republican National Committee (RNC) invested over $1 million in Kentucky, made more than 1 million voter contacts and had dozens of staff on the ground, a spokesperson for the RNC told the DCNF.
“Tonight, Kentucky made a choice. Not a choice to move to the right or to the left, but to move forward for every single family. A choice to reject team ‘R’ or team ‘D,’ and to state clearly that we are one team Kentucky,” Beshear said in his victory speech Tuesday. “It was a victory that sends a loud, clear message — a message that candidates should run for something and not against someone. That a candidate should show vision, and not sow division, and a clear statement that anger politics should end right here and right now.”
Cameron frequently pointed to the administration’s record on education and crime, as well as Beshear’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Beshear pushed back by criticizing the attorney general for being too “partisan” and “extreme,” largely on the issue of abortion.
The state has a near-outright abortion ban, which Cameron fought for in the Kentucky Supreme Court, allowing for limited exceptions only when the life of the mother is at risk.
“The way he positioned Daniel on the rape and incest exceptions, which Kentucky does not have in its law, put Beshear closer to the center of public opinion and Daniel on the fringe of public opinion,” said Jennings. “The Beshear campaign’s use of that was effectively like an anvil on Daniels head. Because it did two things — it motivated Democratic turnout, and motivated Democrats to know that this race mattered, but also I think it locked Daniel out of a lot of suburban, college-educated women around Louisville, around Lexington.”
The governor’s campaign released an advertisement in late September highlighting a young woman named Hadley who said she became pregnant after her stepfather raped her at the age of 12.
“I’m speaking out because women and girls need to have options. Daniel Cameron would give us none,” said Hadley.
Tres Watson, GOP political consultant in the state, believes Beshear’s ad was “incredibly powerful,” and told the DCNF that Cameron didn’t have the resources to respond effectively.
An Emerson College survey released just days before the election, which showed Beshear and Cameron tied at 47%, found that a majority of Kentucky voters opposed the state’s abortion ban at 55%, compared to 28% who support it.
Kentucky’s off-year election saw a 38% voter turnout with roughly 1.3 million ballots cast, according to the state’s website. Aside from Cameron, Republicans won at the top of the ticket with Russell Coleman as attorney general, Michael Adams as secretary of State, Allison Ball as state auditor, Mark H. Metcalf as state treasurer and Jonathan Shell as commissioner of Agriculture.
“I don’t think there was any sort of broad base, rejection of Republicans or anything like that, because I mean, we won the down tickets all by 100,000 votes or so. So it’s not like voters just said, ‘oh, we don’t want Republicans,’ they just said, ‘we want Andy Beshear,’” said Watson.
Beshear narrowly defeated incumbent Republican Gov. Matt Bevin in 2019 by a slim 5,000-vote margin. The governor was Cameron’s predecessor as attorney general from 2016 to 2019, and is the son of former Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear.
“The lesson to be drawn of this election is if you’re gonna run for governor in a red state, make sure your father had been governor previously,” said Watson.
Cameron secured an early endorsement from Trump in June 2022, which Jennings argued helped him in the contentious Republican primary in May but wasn’t enough to elevate him in the general.
“I think the Republicans learned again, there are limits to Trump,” said Jennings.
“I think it was kind of a wash,” Watson said of Trump’s endorsement. “I think it probably helped in the rural areas, as much as it hurt in some urban areas.”
Mike McKenna, Republican consultant and president of MWR strategies, argued that the endorsement wasn’t enough to turn out Trump voters for Cameron since the former president didn’t appear on the top of the ticket.
“There are places where a Trump endorsement is a winner, there’s places where it’s a loser and problem — but it’s a drag everywhere. In every competitive race, it’s gonna be a drag,” said McKenna. “When he’s not on the ballot, it’s not transferable, and that’s a big problem. Because you take all the downside and you don’t get any of the upside when he’s not on it.”
Trump reacted to Cameron’s loss via a Truth Social post Tuesday evening where he blamed the defeat on the attorney general’s ties to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, to whom he served as legal counsel.
“Daniel Cameron lost because he couldn’t alleviate the stench of Mitch McConnell,” Trump wrote. “I told him early that’s a big burden to overcome. McConnell and Romney are Kryptonite for Republican Candidates. I moved him up 25 Points, but the McConnell relationship was ‘too much to bear.’”
Cameron handily won the GOP nomination in mid-May, beating the Commissioner of Agriculture Ryan Quarles, former Trump administration U.N. Ambassador Kelly Craft and numerous other GOP challengers. Polling for the majority of the post-primary race showed Beshear leading Cameron anywhere from 2 points to 16 points, according to FiveThirtyEight’s survey compilation.
“Thank you all, thank you so much for you willingness and commit to this campaign and this effort that was ultimately about our kids and our grandkids,” Cameron said in his concession speech Tuesday evening. “And I ask that you pray for Gov. Beshear and his team, and for all of our commonwealth. Because at the end of the day — win, lose or draw — what ultimately matters is that Christ is on the throne.”
Trump and Cameron did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s requests for comment.
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