Analysis: What Daniel Cameron’s Name Floating for Governor Could Mean

Kentucky’s first Black Attorney General surprised political observers this week with the news that he is keeping his options open and considering everything “on the table” next year, including a race for governor.

Attorney General Daniel Cameron, a protege of Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, was elected in 2019 and is eligible to seek a second term in the role, something he’s filed to raise money to do, but his latest comments to WKYT have some scratching their heads and considering what it all means.

The 36-year old’s revelation is adding a new layer of intrigue to the Republican gubernatorial primary. His potential interest could be interpreted in many ways, including how McConnell views the race against Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear.

McConnell’s allies are close with two of the potential candidates who have yet to enter the race but are presumed to be running for Governor in Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles and former United Nations Ambassador Kelly Craft. Floating Cameron could be a signal that McConnell has reservations about the current field’s ability to win the race against Beshear. McConnell could also still be positioning Cameron to replace him in the Senate.

Cameron has been groomed to replace McConnell in the U.S. Senate, and the governorship is one way he could get there. As I first reported in 2021 for The Intercept a law pushed by McConnell through the state legislature last year lays out a path to name Cameron to McConnell’s Senate seat, should the Senator vacate the seat before the end of his current term. That appointment under the new law lies ultimately with the governor and means a Republican loyal to McConnell would have to hold the position to name McConnell’s replacement. i.e. Why McConnell cares about the 2023 governor’s race.

If Cameron ran and won the GOP nomination and governorship, he could then appoint himself to the position of Senator if McConnell vacated the seat. The move could be seen as something similar to former Gov. Wendell Ford running for Senate in 1974 during his gubernatorial term, and resigning his post as governor early to assume more seniority in the upper chamber thanks to the defeated Republican Sen. Marlow Cook.

All of this is assuming that the U.S. Senate is still the position Cameron sees for himself. Cameron and his wife, Makenze, welcomed a son, Theodore Jay Cameron, in January of this year. Putting Cameron’s name in the ring for governor could also be a strategy to stay close to home with his family. There is another possibility, positioning himself for the governorship could also be a reflection that Republicans will begin to be the truly dominant party in Kentucky, and elections will fall to GOP primaries. Cameron could assume if a Republican wins the gubernatorial race would be there for eight years and thus, if he is not seeking another seat it is time to make his move.

Floating his name could also be a red herring, something many politicians do seeking to elevate their stature. Once a rising star in the GOP, Cameron’s handling of the Breonna Taylor case could still haunt him – and being tied to bigger broader races could be a way to elevate himself beyond the tumultuous term as Attorney General and prepare him for clearing a path to a second term in the position.

Whatever is happening in the race more glimpses will be revealed in the coming months. The state legislature finishes its business in April, and gubernatorial candidates who need a full quarter of fundraising to beef up a first report will likely begin announcing their candidacies for governor in July at the beginning of the 3rd Quarter for fundraising.

State Auditor Mike Harmon and former northern Kentucky lawyer Eric Deters have filed for the Republican Gubernatorial Primary. In addition to Quarles and Craft, Rep. Savannah Maddox, Sen. Ralph Alvarado, Sen. Max Wise, former Gov. Matt Bevin, and Somerset Mayor Alan Keck are all considering the race.