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Bill Straub: Maybe Daniel Cameron was premature in taking on popular incumbent Andy Beshear

Word is that Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell was hoping his protégé, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, would skip this year’s governor’s race and let someone else take on the popular Democratic incumbent, Andy Beshear.

It’s been speculated that McConnell, of Louisville, might have wanted Cameron to bide his time over the next four years by returning as attorney general and then, possibly, run to replace him on Capitol Hill should he decide not to seek re-election at the ripe old age of 84.

Cameron, however, is a politician and is, therefore, the ambitious sort. He had his own ideas. Unwilling to wait his political turn, Cameron jumped into the governor’s race, defeating a large crowd of primary contenders for the opportunity to oppose Beshear in a rapidly developing Republican state this fall.

The NKyTribune’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com

But history shows on most issues dealing with politics McConnell usually turns out to be right. And, if current numbers hold, Cameron may find himself hopping on the unemployment line come Nov. 8.

On paper, Cameron looks like a strong contender – young but experienced, good-looking family and Kentucky conservative. But some issues are working against him – the mishandling of the Breonna Taylor case as attorney general heading the list – and he has yet to find the groove that would ensconce him in the first-floor office in the Capital Building. The state economy seems better than usual and it could be that folks don’t see any reason to replace the incumbent.

So, Cameron finds himself flinging a lot of stuff at the wall, hoping something sticks. One possibility is the issue of abortion, raised as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s infamous Dobbs decision, rendered in June 2022, which declared that an abortion was no longer a constitutional right.

The attorney general, running for governor after having vowed he would not use his position to jump to a higher office, has taken a hardline against abortion at a time when Kentucky voters favor fewer restrictions, as evidenced by the solid majority that rejected a proposed constitutional amendment to ban the procedure last fall. That hasn’t kept Cameron from marching forward, convincing the state Supreme Court last February to uphold a pair of anti-abortion laws that imposed a near total ban.

Cameron subsequently joined with attorneys general from 18 other states in a letter opposing a proposed Department of Health and Human Services rule that would shield the medical records of women residing in anti-abortion states like Kentucky who travel across state lines to undergo the procedure where it remains legal.

HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said his department moved ahead after hearing concerns about “instituted or threatened” investigations of health care information in states where abortion remains legal, maneuvers that are “likely to chill individuals’ willingness to seek lawful treatment or to provide full information to their health care providers when obtaining that treatment.”

The state seeking such personal medical information does, indeed, look like a move employed by the Stasi. Questioned by WLEX-TV, channel 18, in Lexington, Cameron replied, “We’re not prosecuting pregnant mothers.”

Of course, if a woman from Kentucky undergoes an abortion in, say, Illinois, where it is legal, that woman would no longer be a “pregnant mother” or whatever other cute term he might dream up. And his response provides little relief for doctors performing the surgery or those who might elected to foot the bill.

“Kentucky is not going to be a state of which we prosecute women,” Cameron said, which is inaccurate since women are prosecuted in Kentucky on a daily basis. “That’s certainly not the aim of what our legislature has done. That is not at all what Kentucky is about. We are establishing a culture of life here in Kentucky. We want pregnant mothers to understand that this is going to be a commonwealth in which we support a culture of life.”

Regardless, Cameron’s anti-abortion campaign doesn’t end there. Not by a longshot.

Northern Kentucky Right to Life, which gained a well-earned reputation as the Commonwealth’s most radical anti-abortion organization under the leadership of the late Bob Cetrulo, circulated a questionnaire among all of Kentucky’s gubernatorial candidates last April, before the primaries. It asked standard questions on the anti-abortion agenda about codifying personhood from fertilization, supporting legislation that prohibits state funding for abortion and criminalizing those who provide abortions or pay for an abortion. It also solicited support for a Human Life Amendment to the U.S. and Kentucky constitutions, holding that “all innocent human beings have the same right to life, from fertilization until natural death.”

Beshear, who is pro-choice, failed to respond. Cameron expressed his support for all 11 questions posed by the organization, affirming his anti-abortion position on each and every one.

One of the questions went like this:

If there should come before you the question of appointment or confirmation of an individual to any board, agency, or committee, etc., which does or could perform, counsel, refer, or fund abortion (including chemical abortions, such as RU-486, and the so-called “morning after pill,” Norplant, Depo Provera, and the so-called “standard birth control pill”), will you nominate or confirm only individuals (1) who refuse to perform, counsel, refer, or fund any surgical or chemical abortion and (2) who refuse to support, vote for, or fund any government or private agency that would perform, counsel, refer, or fund any surgical or chemical abortion?

As noted by Jessica Valenti, a feminist writer living in New York City, Northern Kentucky Right to Life maintains through this question that use of the “standard birth control pill” is tantamount to abortion. By answering yes, Valenti poses, Cameron is essentially agreeing to “criminalize hormonal birth control.”

According to reports, in the U.S. from 2015 to 2017, about 13.9 percent of all women used birth control pills, which are 99.7 percent effective in preventing pregnancy. You might think, therefore, a candidate might want to avoid conflating birth control with abortion. So it appears old Daniel is willing to rush in where angels fear to tread.

It appears, with a little less than two months to go before the Nov. 7 election, that Cameron is trailing Beshear by a moderate but by no means insurmountable margin. This year, for the first time in state history, the election of a governor will be conducted in a Kentucky where registered Republicans outnumber Democrats.

It represents a remarkable turnaround. Between 1931 and 2003, Kentucky elected just one Republican governor, Louie B. Nunn, of Glasgow, who served from 1967 to 1971. During that same period Albert B. “Happy’’ Chandler, of Versailles was elected twice – in 1935 and 1955 – at a time when governors could not directly succeed themselves. So, over 72 years, Happy himself beat Republicans 2-1.

Over the last 20 years, the Commonwealth has elected two Republicans, Ernie Fletcher, of Lexington, and Matt Bevin, of Louisville, who turned out to be miserable failures and were denied second terms by the voters.

Beshear has proved popular for several reasons, including his candor during the Covid crisis, his actions during crises like the Mayfield tornado disaster and his support for statewide sports betting in a state where wagering on horse races was already conducted with a religious fervor.

But Beshear only defeated Bevin, generally despised by leaders in both parties, by only 5,136 votes. Republicans won every other constitutional office, including the race for attorney general, where Cameron defeated a former Democratic attorney general, Greg Stumbo, of Prestonsburg, by more than 220,000 votes.

In fact, Cameron, with 823,346 votes in his race for attorney general in 2019, actually outpolled Beshear, who totaled 709,846 in his race for governor that year. That’s something to keep in mind. And it’s worth noting that Beshear ran strong in GOP counties like Kenton and Campbell in 2019, raising speculation about his ability for a repeat performance.

Regardless, polls show Beshear with a strong lead. Most recently. Hart Research Associates, in a survey sponsored by the Beshear campaign, gives the Democrat a 51 percent to 42 percent edge. And Beshear may have the dough to pull it off. The most recent report from the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance showed him totaling a little less than $15 million compared to $2.4 million for Cameron.

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