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GOP candidates decry gun control, education system at gubernatorial debate

Five GOP candidates for governor participate in a live debate on KET ahead of the gubernatorial primary election.
Five GOP candidates for governor participate in a live debate on KET ahead of the gubernatorial primary election.

As Kentucky’s gubernatorial primary approaches, GOP candidates intensified their attacks on each other in a debate on Monday, while largely refraining from supporting any gun safety policies.

With the gubernatorial primary election just two weeks away, GOP candidates are making their final pitches to be the Republican challenger to incumbent Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear.

The debate, which aired on Kentucky Tonight on KET, included five of the 12 Republican candidates in the race: Attorney General Daniel Cameron, former U.N Ambassador Kelly Craft, Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, Somerset mayor Alan Keck and former attorney Eric Deters.

Cameron and Craft are the two presumptive frontrunners in the GOP race. A poll released last month by Emerson College and Fox 56 indicated Craft has cut into Cameron’s lead, now trailing behind him by just six percentage points. The poll placed Quarles in third place.

When asked about gun control, Keck was the only candidate to endorse any gun safety proposal. He said he supports repealing the state law that requires police to auction seized guns – a law Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg has also condemned in the wake of the mass shooting at Old National Bank last month.

All other candidates refrained from supporting any gun safety proposal. Craft said she would not “touch the Second Amendment or due process” as governor.

“The Second Amendment is sacrosanct, and we need to make sure we protect it,” Cameron said. “Some in Louisville want to support gun control. I do not support that.”

The five candidates all said they support campus carry laws, allowing concealed weapons on college campuses. A campus carry bill was introduced during this year’s legislative session, but failed to advance.

Monday’s debate marked an intensification of Cameron and Craft’s attacks against one another, after a series of adversarial campaign advertisements. One heated point of contention: campaign contributions.

Cameron condemned a $1.5 million gift from the trust of Craft’s husband, coal executive Joe Craft, to the super PAC promoting her election. In response, Craft said she was “not aware” of her husband’s contribution to the PAC.

Craft also called out Cameron’s campaign finances. A PAC supporting Cameron’s campaign received $100,000 in donationsfrom Pace-o-Matic, a gambling machine company which is currently suing the state over a ban passed by the 2023 General Assembly. The Office of the Attorney General is currently defending the ban in court.

Former President Donald Trump has endorsed Cameron in the race for governor, even though Craft worked in his administration.

Monday marked Deters’ first prominent appearance on the debate circuit. The controversial attorney, who was censured by the Kentucky Supreme Court for practicing law without a license, used the opportunity to double down on his claim that Craft is not a Kentucky resident, which he alleged makes her ineligible to run. Craft denied this allegation.

“I was born in Kentucky, I was raised in Kentucky,” Craft said. “I raised my children here. I have a home here – my only home. I pay my taxes here.”

Craft has put an anti-transgender plank at the center of her campaign platform. It’s part of her broader effort to lean into hot-button national issues – what she called “woke ideologies” – including transgender rights and how education is governed in the state.

At the debate, Craft said she would “dismantle” Kentucky’s education system as governor. Cameron similarly expressed concern about “progressive ideas” and critical race theory being promoted in public schools.

Quarles, a two-term agriculture commissioner and former legislator, largely stayed out of the fray with the two front runners. He said he’s the candidate who can work with the GOP-led legislature after years of fighting with Beshear.

“The governor right now, Andy Beshear, is irrelevant with the Kentucky General Assembly,” he said. “We need someone who can bring us together.”

Voters will head to the polls on May 16 to vote in the gubernatorial primary election.

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