FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kelly Craft caused a stir with her pitch to overhaul Kentucky’s Department of Education while Daniel Cameron denounced the sale of abortion pills by mail, as the Republican gubernatorial rivals carve out positions they hope will energize GOP primary voters.
The focus on such hot-button issues comes as Republican hopefuls try to stand out from the pack of 12 candidates competing in the May GOP primary. Democrats said it’s an example of Republicans taking positions “outside the mainstream” to break through the crowded primary contest.
Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear is seeking reelection in a race drawing national attention to see if the popular incumbent can overcome his party’s struggles in the GOP-trending Bluegrass State.
Craft railed against the education department in a campaign speech in which she called for sweeping changes in the vast agency without offering details. She vowed to push to dismantle and then revamp the department if elected in November. Portions of Craft’s speech last week were released Monday by a Democratic group specializing in research and opposition tracking.
Craft leaned into her attacks against the education department in a follow-up statement.
“No one can hide that our current State Board of Education and Department of Education are a mess — pushing woke agendas in our schools,” Craft said late Monday.
Alan Keck. another GOP gubernatorial candidate, pushed back against Craft’s remarks.
“I’m not sure about the intention behind Ambassador Craft’s words, but I do know voters won’t have to wonder what I mean when I say it,” Keck, the mayor of Somerset, said in a statement Tuesday.
Craft, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, appears to be borrowing from a script used by Virginia Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin in his successful campaign in 2021. Youngkin won by tapping into culture war fights over school curricula, emphasizing parental rights to make decisions about their children’s education.
Craft’s campaign said she wants to revamp the education department and state school board to “empower parents” and “make sure teachers teach the ABC’s, not the CRT’s.” It was a reference to critical race theory — a way of thinking about America’s history through the lens of racism.
Keck said the state can do better to ensure “our values are reflected in what’s being taught.”
“All conservatives should push back against some of the fringe ideas being introduced, I certainly do,” he said. “But we have to push back with commonsense policy, not by starting over.”
Meanwhile, Cameron on Monday touted his efforts as Kentucky’s attorney general to try to prevent the nation’s largest pharmacy-dispensing companies from selling abortion pills by mail.
He joined a group of attorneys general from conservative states in warning that the sale of abortion pills would violate federal law and abortion laws in many states.
“Mailing abortion medication places the health of mothers at risk and could increase the number of coerced abortions,” Cameron said in a news release from the attorney general’s office.
Studies and real-use evidence show that, when taken together, the mifepristone and misoprostol pills are safe and up to 99% effective.
Cameron’s record as attorney general will play a big role in his bid for governor. Cameron, an abortion opponent, has been at the forefront of legal fights over abortion access in Kentucky — a role burnishing his conservative credentials with Republican voters. His office is defending the state’s near-total abortion ban against a legal challenge now before the state Supreme Court.
The state law under court review includes narrow exceptions when abortion is permissible to save a pregnant woman’s life or to prevent disabling injury. The measure includes no exceptions for rape or incest victims. Abortion-rights supporters celebrated last November when Kentucky’s electorate rejected a ballot measure that would have denied protections for abortion in the state’s constitution.
With the primary still more than three months away, the Republican gubernatorial candidates have mostly refrained from publicly attacking one another, focusing their criticism on Beshear and Democratic President Joe Biden. But the gloves-off approach isn’t likely to last.
Democrats say the GOP candidates are veering far to the right during the primary season.
“Daniel Cameron, Kelly Craft and the Republican candidates for governor are taking up harmful positions far outside the mainstream values Kentuckians want because they’re desperate to break through in a messy, crowded primary,” said Sam Newton, a spokesperson for the Democratic Governors Association.