Congressman makes pitch for Kentucky gubernatorial candidate

Apr 12, 2023, 1:50 PM

Kentucky republican gubernatorial candidate Kelly Craft, left, responds to a question as Rep. James...

Kentucky republican gubernatorial candidate Kelly Craft, left, responds to a question as Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., looks on during a question and answer session during a campaign stop in Elizabethtown, Ky., Wednesday, April 12, 2023. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

(AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

ELIZABETHTOWN, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky GOP gubernatorial candidate Kelly Craft campaigned alongside U.S. Rep. James Comer on Wednesday, looking to maximize support from the influential home-state Republican after missing out on an endorsement from former President Donald Trump.

Craft hit on key campaign themes during a stop in Elizabethtown. She vowed to overhaul Kentucky’s education department if elected, support the state’s coal industry and crack down on illegal drug trafficking — which includes supporting the death penalty for drug traffickers found responsible for causing a Kentuckian’s death.

Craft picked up Comer’s endorsement as soon as she entered the crowded Republican contest for governor last September, and the congressman joined Craft for campaign events Wednesday, with the state’s mid-May primary election fast approaching.

“She is the real deal and she and Max Wise are the right ticket to lead Kentucky into the future,” Comer said of Craft and her running mate. “I don’t get involved in primaries. … The book says if you’re a smart political guy, you stay out of the primaries. I can’t do it, because I know Kelly Craft.”

Comer’s national profile among conservatives has surged since he assumed the chairmanship of the House Oversight Committee. That role has put him at the forefront of the panel’s wide-ranging investigation into Democratic President Joe Biden’s family.

It was Craft rival Daniel Cameron, the state’s attorney general, who landed Trump’s endorsement, before Craft entered the race. Cameron, long seen as a rising GOP star, routinely touts his support from the ex-president, who easily carried Kentucky in the 2016 and 2020 elections for the White House and is making another bid for the presidency in 2024.

Craft has her own ties to Trump’s presidency. Trump appointed her as U.S. ambassador to Canada and later as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Craft and Comer played up those ties Wednesday while speaking to several dozen people gathered at a restaurant in downtown Elizabethtown.

Craft said she played a role in facilitating the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, Trump’s long-sought revamp of the North American Free Trade Agreement. The updated trade deal has benefited workers, farmers and businesses in Kentucky and across the country, Craft said.

“She and President Trump put America first,” Comer said.

Asked Wednesday what impact Trump’s endorsement of Cameron could have on the outcome of the primary, Craft replied: “My endorsement comes from people here. It comes from every corner of the state. Those are my endorsements.”

Twelve candidates in all are competing for the state’s Republican nomination for governor. Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear is seeking reelection to a second term, in a campaign drawing national attention to see if the popular incumbent can overcome his party’s struggles in the GOP-trending state.

During the campaign stop Wednesday, Craft highlighted education and drug fighting themes. She stressed the value of education from technical schools to universities to fill high-demand jobs in the Bluegrass State.

“We’re going to make everybody proud that they have chosen what they want to do, so they can fulfill their highest potential,” she said.

Craft also vowed to remove “woke ideologies” from education — hitting on a popular theme among many Republicans in Kentucky and across the country.

If elected, she said: “My first official act, I’m going to dismantle the Kentucky Department of Education. That means take it apart and put it back together.”

Craft spoke about the ravages of drug abuse in Kentucky and the influx of illegal drugs, which she blamed on what she described as the nation’s porous southern border.

“That border is wide open and is easier to get across … than to go into a UK (University of Kentucky) basketball game,” she said.

The former ambassador vowed to push for tough punishments for drug traffickers, including the ultimate penalty in the most extreme cases.

“If a drug trafficker, a drug dealer, anyone in the drug business causes the death of a Kentuckian, they will also receive the death penalty,” Craft said, drawing applause from the crowd.

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Congressman makes pitch for Kentucky gubernatorial candidate