(CNN) Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron will win his party’s nomination for governor in Tuesday’s primary, CNN projects, setting up a highly anticipated showdown with Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear this fall.
Cameron, endorsed by Donald Trump, will defeat former diplomat Kelly Kraft in a race seen as a test of the former president’s influence with Republican primary voters as the 2024 presidential race takes shape.
Cameron’s victory makes it one of the most important elections of 2023 and has implications for 2024.
CNN predicted Beshear would win the Democratic rerun Tuesday night. His bid for next year will be an important bellwether, when his party defends Senate seats in other red states such as Montana, Ohio and West Virginia.
Her father, a two-term governor, defeated Republican Gov. Matt Bevin in 2019.
Republicans, however, argue that despite Beshear’s popularity, the November general election will be contested in the deeply red state. Republicans have eroded Democrats’ ancestral voter registration advantage in recent years, and a Democratic presidential candidate has not won Kentucky since former President Bill Clinton’s re-election in 1996. Beshear is the party’s only remaining statewide elected official.
Cameron thanked Trump “hugely” at his election dinner on Tuesday.
“I’m saying the culture of Trump winning is alive and well in Kentucky,” Cameron said.
Cameron nods to his potential history-making position: If he defeats Beshear in November, he will become Kentucky’s first black governor and the first black Republican governor elected in the United States.
“For anyone who looks like me, know that you can accomplish anything. Know that your values are what matter in this country and in Kentucky,” Cameron said.
He previewed Beshere’s lines of attack in the upcoming election, citing crime, low labor force participation rates, fentanyl and schools “on the verge of becoming a breeding ground for liberal and progressive ideals,” he said. ”
He said the Republican-controlled Legislature is largely deserving of Beshear’s accomplishments.
“The governor can’t pretend to hit a triple when everyone knows he was born on the third floor,” Cameron said.
He further said, “A governor who does not speak up on these issues and does not stand up for your interests has abdicated his responsibilities to the commonwealth and is no longer fit to lead it.”
Croft, in tearful remarks at his election dinner, did not use Cameron’s name but complained about his campaign tactics.
But he urged Republican voters to unite against Beshear.
“While I’m disappointed in tonight’s results, we must now unite as a Republican party to defeat Andy Beshear in November,” he said.
Among the dozen candidates in the Kentucky Republican gubernatorial primary, Cameron, Crafts and Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles have emerged as the primary contenders.
The rivalry is bitter, with Cameron and Kraft gunning for each other for months.
Trump and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell joined in supporting Cameron, a former McConnell staffer.
But Kraft, a former U.S. ambassador to Canada and later to the United Nations under the Trump administration, put his family’s millions of dollars into the race.
He received a late endorsement from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday, turning the primary into a proxy battle before DeSantis faces Trump in the 2024 Republican presidential primary. Meanwhile, Trump spoke at a tele rally for Cameron on Sunday evening.
Kraft downplayed Trump’s endorsement of Cameron, noting that it came when he was not officially in the running.
Cameron pushed back in a debate earlier this month, pointing out that the former president attended last year’s Kentucky Derby with Kraft.
“Kelly, you told people for six months that you were going to get the Donald Trump endorsement. You had him at the Derby last year. Then I got the endorsement. Your team has been struggling ever since,” Cameron said. The debate was hosted by Kentucky Education Television.
Kraft leans into attacks on transgender rights, while at the same time introducing what he calls “woke ideology” in schools.
“We will not have transgender people in our school system,” he said in a telephone town hall Monday — prompting criticism from pro-LGBTQ rights advocates in Kentucky.
For his part, Quarles tried to win over voters turned off by the ad wars between Cameron and Kraft.
“It’s important for Republicans to nominate a candidate who can unify the party,” he said in May’s inaugural debate.
Even though the governor’s race will be Kentucky’s marquee race in 2023, CNN predicts Kentucky Republican Secretary of State Michael Adams, the voice of the state’s election practices, will win the GOP primary.
Adams fended off a challenge from Stephen Nipper, an information technology project manager, and former state lawmaker Alan Marical, who made false claims of fraud in the Bluegrass State’s elections.
Adams will be the favorite as she faces former state Rep. Patti Wheatley, an unopposed Democrat for her party’s nomination in November.
This story and topic have been updated with additional improvements.
CNN’s Ethan Cohen contributed to this story.