Analysis: Several Stand-Out Moments & Many Similarities in First GOP Debate

In the first debate of the Republican primary for governor hosted by Spectrum News 1 four of the 12 candidates who participated revealed their similarities and few differences.

Daniel Cameron, Ryan Quarles, Mike Harmon, and Alan Keck aired their grievances with Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear but avoided speaking ill of other Republicans in the hour-long debate Tuesday night.

Keck, the mayor of Somerset, Kentucky, delivered a strong showing as the only candidate on stage who is not a statewide elected official. Keck deviated several times from the Republicans in attendance. While all of the candidates espoused pro-life views, Keck found slightly more moderate ground saying he thought there should be exceptions to Kentucky’s law for instances of rape. Public polling indicates that a majority of Americans agree there should be exceptions. Kentuckians voted down a Constitutional Amendment last year that would have granted the Kentucky General Assembly broad state Constitutional authority to prevent abortions.

The Somerset mayor also veered from the pack when it came to the issue of the opiate epidemic, while others at the debate offered thoughts on additional policing, or national border protections, Keck pivoted saying the problem of drug addiction comes from “a lack of hope and opportunity.”

Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who had been a hard “no” on medical marijuana, found room to pivot on the topic on Tuesday night, indicating he was “open to the conversation,” if elected Governor of the Commonwealth. Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles announced his support for medical marijuana last week, only Auditor Mike Harmon was a no on the topic.

Cameron continued to find ways to nationalize the race and played to the questions highlighting multiple times his endorsement from President Trump. Ryan Quarles signaled his campaign strategy of representing the every-man, saying, “I’m one of you,” in his opening remarks.

All of the candidates shared their Christian faith during the debate.

Former Ambassador Kelly Craft declined an invitation to participate in the debate, which was co-hosted by the Jefferson County Republican Party. Craft has already spent nearly $1 million on television advertisements in the race, and as the wife of billionaire coal magnate Joe Craft, she is expected to dump millions more into the primary.

The primary election will take place on May 16, and at least two other debates have been confirmed before the primary.