March 2, 2024

Kentucky Republicans came to the state’s top political event this weekend looking to win elections in November and beyond, but some gubernatorial hopefuls had trouble coming to terms with Donald Trump’s 2020 loss.

They gave analyzed or tortured answers when asked whether Democrat Joe Biden’s victory over Trump for the presidency was fairly decided. Their tiptoes were a sign of Trump’s continued hold on many in the GOP, including Kentucky, which he easily carried twice.

That influence was evident Saturday, as Trump supporters held large “Trump Won” signs as people gathered for the political speech at the Fancy Farm picnic in western Kentucky. The signs — promoting Trump’s false claims of a rigged 2020 election — drew cheers from Republican loyalists. The picnic-style stump speech — aired on state television — is a rite of passage for statewide candidates in Kentucky.

Trump has already weighed in on the Bluegrass state’s 2023 race for governor, endorsing GOP Attorney General Daniel Cameron. Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, who is seeking a second term, skipped the picnic and spent Saturday comforting flood victims in eastern Kentucky.

Cameron showed support for Trump during his picnic speech. However, over the weekend, questions were raised about the former president’s unsubstantiated claims of widespread election fraud in 2020.

“The election was fair and secure here in Kentucky,” Cameron said in one of reporters’ questions. “Look, we have to focus on the future. And that’s what this campaign is about.”

Cameron, however, distanced himself from the views of some hardline Trump supporters, who believe the results of the 2020 presidential election should be overturned.

“President Biden is the president of the United States. I don’t dispute that,” said Cameron, who as attorney general has been involved in several lawsuits challenging the policies of the Biden administration.

Cameron, who worked for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and counts him as a mentor, also declined to discuss the January 6 riot at the US Capitol. The House panel investigating the attack blamed Trump, saying the attack was not spontaneous but an “attempted coup” and a direct result of the defeated president’s attempt to overturn the election.

Instead of discussing the Capitol siege, Cameron pointed to the 2020 protests sparked by the deaths of George Floyd, Breona Taylor and other Black Americans in clashes with police. He said he is not being asked about protests that destroyed property in some cities in the country.

Cameron, who is black, even made a joke about endorsing Trump in his picnic speech — in true Fancy Farm form, where zingers and faux pas are not only common but expected.

“Now people were speculating about how I got this approval. So today I’m going to spill the beans. It was really very easy. … All I had to do was assure Trump that Mitch McConnell is not Mackenzie’s grandfather,” Cameron said, referring to his wife.

Cameron was the only gubernatorial candidate to mention Trump, whose endorsement has been sought by other GOP gubernatorial candidates, from the Fancy Farm stage.

In her picnic speech, state Sen. Savannah Maddox, another gubernatorial candidate, referred to Florida Gov. Ron DeSandis as a “true Republican” who will “fight for your constitutional rights and freedoms.”

Cameron wasn’t the only GOP candidate who struggled to answer questions about Trump.

Asked if he thought Biden won fairly, Ryan Quarles replied that Kentucky had a “safe election” and that Trump “won terribly” in the Bluegrass State. Quarles, the state’s agriculture commissioner, is also among the gubernatorial candidates seeking to clinch the GOP nomination next spring.

“I think President Trump would do a much better job than President Biden if he were in office today,” Quarles added.

Another gubernatorial candidate, state Comptroller Mike Harmon, gave a more than 140-word response when first asked if Biden won fairly. Later, Harmon said some key controls related to the election were withdrawn, but said he could not “make an assessment one way or the other.”

Harmon said he wished there hadn’t been an attack on the Capitol, but also pointed to the damage and destruction of property during police-related protests, saying it doesn’t get attention.

“Certainly, President Biden is serving as our president,” Harmon said later. “We should pray for him just as we would pray for any of our presidents. And I hope it provides guidance. There are some things we wish he had done differently, obviously.”

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