Kentucky AG navigates GOP feud as he files for governor

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron said Tuesday that navigating the rift between former President Donald Trump and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell shows his ability to bring together Republican factions as he seeks to break through a crowded GOP primary for governor in 2023.

Facing the challenge of an ultra-competitive primary fight in the red state, Cameron has found himself caught in the middle of the feud between Trump — who has endorsed Cameron’s gubernatorial bid — and McConnell, the attorney general’s home-state political mentor.

Cameron hedged Tuesday when asked about the feud after he filed his candidacy papers in his bid to unseat Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear. Cameron expressed support for Trump’s bid for the presidency in 2024 while pointing to his deep ties to McConnell, the state’s senior senator. Cameron once served as McConnell’s legal counsel.

“They’ve got their differences,” Cameron told reporters at the Kentucky Capitol. “I think what our candidacy means is that we’re able to transcend a lot of different factions within the Republican Party and bring people together. And I think that is what ultimately this candidacy represents.”

Trump, who remains popular with the party’s base, has repeatedly lashed out at McConnell at rallies and in social media posts ever since McConnell agreed to formally certify Trump’s 2020 Electoral College loss to Joe Biden and criticized the former president in a blistering floor speech. The two GOP heavyweights have engaged in a volley of caustic public statements ever since as they wrestle over what their party should look like going forward.

Cameron showed no signs of wanting to stray into the middle of the fray when asked about Trump’s social media attacks against McConnell.

“I’m proud to know him, honored to have worked for him,” Cameron said of McConnell. “He has meant a great deal to our family. And I’m going to continue to support his work. As Sen. McConnell has noted, he’s a big boy and can fight his own battles. He doesn’t need me to step in.”

Cameron acknowledged that Biden “was legitimately elected the president of the United States,” contradicting baseless claims by Trump that the 2020 election was stolen from him.

Cameron also declined to weigh in on the House Jan. 6 committee’s decision urging that criminal charges be brought against Trump for the violent 2021 Capitol insurrection.

“I’ll let others in the Department of Justice make a determination about that,” Cameron said, adding that he’s running a campaign “focused on Kentucky.”

Cameron had no qualms about ripping into Biden’s presidency, especially his handling of economic and energy issues, navigating toward safer political ground for a GOP primary candidate as he tried to tie Beshear to the Democratic president.

“It’s the reason we have runaway inflation,” Cameron said. “It’s the reason that I’m constantly having to fight against an administration in Washington, D.C., that wants to destroy the fossil fuels industry.”

Cameron expressed his support for Kentucky’s coal industry, which has been in decline for years but remains a potent issue in the state’s coalfields in eastern and western Kentucky.

Beshear has remained popular during a term overshadowed by the COVID-19 pandemic and weather disasters. He was lauded for his response to tornadoes that hit western Kentucky in late 2021 and historic flooding that inundated parts of eastern Kentucky last summer. He has clashed with the GOP-dominated legislature, but his record includes some of the biggest economic development successes in the state’s history.

Cameron is part of a crowded GOP field for the May gubernatorial primary that includes state Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, former United Nations Ambassador Kelly Craft, state Auditor Mike Harmon and retired attorney Eric Deters.

Cameron on Tuesday continued to tout his opposition to abortion, his legal fight against Beshear’s pandemic-related restrictions and his work to combat the state’s opioid epidemic.

“I think you need somebody, particularly in today’s environment, that will do this job with a smile on their face but will stand for principle and stand for values,” Cameron said. “I think we demonstrated that.”

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