As Churchill Downs opens its spring meet this weekend and horses prepare for the Kentucky Derby, our interest is compelled by another sort of stable: Kentucky Republican politicians and their odds of showing up at former president Donald Trump’s fund-raiser at the Derby.
The $75,000 ticket price is a convenient excuse not to attend, but what if money were no object?
Here’s our morning line:
Former U.N. ambassador Kelly Craft: As the only Trump appointee on this list, and a potential candidate for governor backed by the wealth and connections of her coal-operator husband Joe, she’s much better than even money. Odds: 1 to 5.
Attorney General Daniel Cameron: Craft’s unannounced exploratory campaign seems short of traction, so Cameron is looking at the 2023 governor’s race as well as a re-election bid. Odds: 3 to 1.
Former governor Matt Bevin: If Cameron runs for governor, crowding the field, it’s an invitation for Bevin and his personal wealth to jump in, and he’s more like Trump than any other Kentucky politician. Odds: 1 to 2.
Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles: Another gubernatorial hopeful, but one with a broader base of support. Odds: 4 to 1.
State Auditor Mike Harmon: The only announced gubernatorial candidate is a decided underdog who could use a boost. (Remember: Money is no object in these guesses.) Odds: 2 to 1.
Secretary of State Michael Adams: He can seek re-election in 2023 and isn’t on the same page with Trump when it comes to the integrity of elections. Odds: 8 to 1.
Sen. Mitch McConnell: When he tried to read Trump out of the party, the party wouldn’t follow, and he wanted to remain its Senate leader, so he voted against conviction on impeachment and said he would support Trump for a second term if the party nominated him (recently saying that would be his obligation). But they are very much at odds in this year’s mid-term elections and haven’t spoken since December 2020, when McConnell told Trump he lost the election. He is unlikely to seek re-election in 2026, when he would be 86 and equal the recently departed Orrin Hatch’s record of longest service by a Republican senator, 42 years. Odds: 100 to 1. (That’s as high as pari-mutuel odds go.)
Sen. Rand Paul: He and Trump share much of the same base, which is why Trump’s entry into the 2016 race killed Paul’s presidential campaign. But with Trump atop the fall ticket, Paul easily won a second term. This year he is heavily favored to win a third and is included in GOP candidate-preference polls for 2024. As long as Trump rules the party, Republicans who have ambition and want to keep winning elections will not want to be too far from The Boss. But Paul is quirky and hard to predict. Odds: 3 to 2.
Rep. Hal Rogers: Now the longest-serving member of the House (in his 43rd year), the onetime country lawyer from Somerset was the only member of Kentucky’s congressional delegation to object to certifying the electoral votes of Arizona and Pennsylvania. He was reflecting his 5th District, which gave Trump his second-largest vote percentage in the nation and perhaps a fear that a well-funded Trumper might challenge him this year. But he is one of those old-fashioned Republicans who have no use for the likes of Trump. Odds: 80 to 1.
Rep. James Comer: His 1st District is Trump’s second strongest in the state, and he is the top-ranking Republican member on the House Oversight and Reform Committee, which puts him in a position to be the chief investigator of the Biden administration if Republicans retake control of the House and his colleagues elect him chairman. He has strong political reasons to put a sail in his party’s prevailing winds. Odds: 2 to 1.
Rep. Thomas Massie: The 4th District congressman from Lewis County is in many ways one of the biggest Trumpers in Congress, but his true fealty is to his libertarian philosophy, which put him at odds with Trump on a few votes, and he has a primary opponent, Claire Wirth of Prospect, who is making much of that. She doesn’t seem to be a big threat, but Massie has a reason to mend fences with Trump. Odds: 3 to 2.
Rep. Brett Guthrie: His 2nd District went for Trump by more than 2 to 1, but the relatively quiet congressman from Bowling Green is a traditional Republican who seems to have no need or use for Trump. Odds: 15 to 1.
Rep. Andy Barr: His Lexington-centered 6th District went for Trump by only 9 percentage points, but became more Republican with redistricting, and Barr has been an outspoken critic of the Biden administration. Odds: 5 to 1.
The biggest question is whether we will really know who attends the private event. Hard-nosed news coverage, please!
Al Cross (Twitter @ruralj) is a professor in the University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media and director of its Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues. His opinions are his own, not UK’s. He was the longest-serving political writer for the Louisville Courier Journal (1989-2004) and national president of the Society of Professional Journalists in 2001-02. He joined the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame in 2010.
NKyTribune is the anchor home for Al Cross’ column.