Daniel Cameron for Governor, and Russell Coleman for AG? Looking Likely

Attorney General Daniel Cameron, is inching closer to declaring a run for governor in the GOP primary, potentially opening up his seat for Kentucky Attorney General next year to one of his best friends in former U.S. Attorney Russell Coleman.

In the past several weeks, Cameron, R-Kentucky, has leaned in on a run for governor – a surprise to many who saw him replacing U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell in Congress.

The role of McConnell could inform the development of several moves next year. McConnell is deeply connected to all three people who could be part of this dance – Cameron, who is like a son to McConnell, Coleman, who served as McConnell’s general counsel and is a close ally, and Kelly Craft who has been a deep-pocketed backer of McConnell’s who benefitted with patronage positions in the administration of Donald Trump.

Cameron, who was re-married in 2020 and welcomed a baby in January of 2022, is realigning his political ambitions in a bid to stay close to home, according to multiple sources. Cameron has served only one term in office, so he is eligible to seek re-election, however, if a Republican wins the Governor’s Mansion next year it likely takes the seat out of play for 8 years – two terms in office.

What about Kelly? Many insiders behind the scenes speculate, that Cameron’s run for governor has been coordinated with Craft, who has talked to several of the candidates.

If Craft joined a ticket for Lt. Governor with Cameron after the primary, and supported him financially during the nominating process, it sets her up to replace McConnell in the spot once held by McConnell for Cameron. The 80-year old McConnell is unlikely to run for another six-year term in Congress in 2026, but he could give an establishment Republican (like Craft) a boost in the polls by resigning early – allowing Cameron, if he is elected as governor, to name Craft as McConnell’s successor in the Senate. The reshuffling of all of these things concedes that Craft is not as strong on state issues, and perhaps better prepared for a federal office.

At the same time, sources say Coleman has been making phone calls and lining up support to run for Attorney General next year. This is another clear indication of where Cameron is leaning, Coleman would not run for AG if Cameron were to stay in the post.

There are a couple of important dates we can watch to get a feel for the race to come. First, we can watch the May 17 primary – it is unlikely any candidate for next year’s elections will enter a race before the primary and potentially hurt a legislative ally who needs the cash. Because of poor Democratic recruitment, most of the premiere legislative races will happen during the primary election, allowing GOP candidates thinking of running next year to jump into a race after May 17.

We should also watch for the start of the 3rd Quarter finance period. The July 1 period begins on a Friday, before the 4th of July holiday – knocking out the first full week of the quarter to make an announcement and garner statewide press. Because of the holiday look for the second and third week of July for primed gubernatorial candidates to announce. However, those politicians watching the dates may hold their ammo and announce the first Saturday in August at Fancy Farm in far western Kentucky.

Candidates who need to show a strong financial report might enter the race early in July, and those with deeper pockets could wait until later in the quarter. Those self financiers like Kelly Craft can wait to enter a race until the filing day next year, if she runs.

Northern Kentuckian Eric Deters and state Auditor Mike Harmon have already filed for the GOP primary race. Others considering the primary include Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, Sen. Max Wise, Sen. Ralph Alvarado, Somerset Mayor Alan Keck, and Rep. Savannah Maddox.

One caveat, things in electoral politics can change quickly. This is a snapshot in time and shows the direction people are leaning today. We will know with more certainty how this all shakes out as the candidates declare for office. Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, D-Kentucky, is in a great spot heading into a re-election campaign and whoever emerges from the GOP primary will have a real race on their hands.