Republicans from Kentucky came to the state’s main political event this weekend with a view to winning the November election and beyond, but some candidates seeking governor’s office struggled to cope with Donald Trump’s 2020 defeat.
They gave dissected or tortured answers to the question of whether Democrat Joe Biden’s victory over Trump for the presidency was reasonably decided. Their tiptoeing was a sign of Trump’s continued hold on many in the GOP, including in Kentucky, whom he could easily wear twice.
That influence was evident on Saturday when Trump supporters carried 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 about a rigged 2020 election — provoked cheers from Republican believers. The stomp-style speaking at the picnic — shown 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, backing GOP Attorney General Daniel Cameron. Democratic Governor Andy Beshear, who is seeking a second term, skipped the picnic and spent Saturday comforting flood victims in eastern Kentucky.
Cameron pointed to Trump’s support during his picnic speech. But he was bursting at the weekend with questions about the ex-president’s unsupported claims of widespread election fraud in 2020.
“The elections were fair and safe here in Kentucky,” Cameron said in response to one of the reporters’ questions. “Look, we need to focus on the future. And that’s what this campaign is about.”
However, Cameron distanced himself from the views of some die-hard Trump supporters who believe that the results of the 2020 presidential election should be reversed.
“President Biden is the President of the United States. I’m not disputing that,” said Cameron, who has joined several lawsuits as attorney general challenging Biden’s policies.
Cameron, who worked for Kentucky Senate leader Mitch McConnell and considers him a mentor, also declined to discuss the January 6 uprising in the US Capitol. The House panel investigating the attack has blamed Trump, saying the attack was not spontaneous, but a “coup attempt” and a direct result of the defeated president’s attempt to undo the election.
Rather than discussing the Capitol siege, Cameron pointed to demonstrations in 2020 spurred by the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other black Americans in meetings with police. He said he is not being asked about protests in which properties were destroyed in some cities of the country.
Cameron, who is black, even joked about Trump’s endorsement in his picnic speech — in true Fancy Farm form, where zingers and spoofs are not only common, but expected.
“Now people have speculated about how I got that approval. So today I’m going to spill the beans. It was actually quite easy. …I just had to assure Trump that Mitch McConnell is not Makenze’s grandfather,” Cameron joked, referring to his wife.
Cameron was the only governor candidate Trump named, whose endorsement had been coveted by other GOP candidates for governor, from the Fancy Farm phase.
In her picnic speech, state representative Savannah Maddox, another gubernatorial candidate, referred to Florida governor Ron DeSantis as an “authentic Republican” who will “fight for your constitutional rights and freedoms.”
Cameron wasn’t the only GOP candidate to struggle with answering Trump-related questions.
When asked if he thinks Biden won fairly, Ryan Quarles replied that Kentucky had “safe elections” and Trump “won great” in the state of Bluegrass. Quarles, the state agriculture commissioner, is also one of the governor candidates seeking the GOP nomination to be decided next spring.
“I think President Trump would do a lot better than President Biden if he were in office today,” Quarles added.
Another hopeful governor, state auditor Mike Harmon, gave a more than 140-word answer when first asked if Biden won fairly. Harmon later said a number of key election-related “checks had been removed” but said he “was unable to make an assessment somehow.”
Harmon said he wished there was no attack on the Capitol, but also pointed to the damage and destruction of property during police-related protests, saying there is a lack of attention to that.
“Certainly, President Biden is our president,” Harmon later said. “We must pray for him, just as we would pray for one of our presidents. And hopefully he will guide you. There are of course some things that we wish he would do differently.”