LEXINGTON, Ky. (FOX 56) — The first votes for the Republican nomination for Kentucky governor can be cast starting Wednesday. In the final weeks of the primary election, several candidates are pitching themselves as the “Trump” candidate, although only one actually has the endorsement.

Last month, FOX 56 released a poll with Emerson College that studied Donald Trump’s support in the state and influence on the race, showing overwhelming support for his reelection in 2024 and that his endorsement carries a fair bit of weight. Trump’s popularity among Kentucky Republicans is something several candidates for governor hope trickles down to them too.

In a debate on Kentucky Educational Television this week, Eric Deters proclaimed he supported Trump beyond any other competitors.

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“You know, he endorsed Daniel Cameron. And you know how loyal I’m to Donald Trump? I’m still supporting Donald Trump,” Deters said when pressed by moderator Renee Shaw over not getting the former president’s public support.

FOX 56’s poll found Trump’s endorsement is enough to sway 35.7% of Kentucky Republican voters. It’s easy to assume that would immediately benefit Attorney General Daniel Cameron, but FOX 56 News political analyst Jonathan Miller said the wave of competing messages could make that less clear.

“They might appear to less educated voters as the Trump candidate. When you’re talking about Kelly Craft’s campaign, which uses Trump’s image in her ads and compares herself favorably to Trump. And you see all of the work that Deters has done to try to establish himself as the true Trump candidate. I think they might be trying to pick up that 35% as well,” Miller said.

And for Cameron, the endorsement puts him on a tightrope not to lose it. On a question about January 6, when asked if he characterized the incident as an insurrection Cameron responded, “January 6 was a challenge. And we’ve had protests. Look, the fact of the matter is, is there were protest all across this country in 2020. People were burning down buildings, destroying homes and we don’t talk about that anymore because that doesn’t fit into the far-left’s narrative.”

“Cameron wants to make sure that that endorsement stays firm. And so, he’s going to bend over backwards not to say anything negative about the January sixth protest, but the other candidates, the last thing they want to have is Trump come in and attack them,” Miller said referring to other candidates’ hesitancy to attack or go against the former president. Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles had a similar moment when he did not directly answer if he believed Joe Biden won the 2020 election. He later clarified his answer to reporters that he does believe Joe Biden was fairly elected.

Deters is the only candidate who has publicly claimed the 2020 election was rigged, and channeled attacks on his performance that were also notably similar to Trump’s performance while in office.

“Deter’s did a Trump impression that was probably more effective sometimes than Trump,” Miller said.

Deters threw barbs toward almost every candidate at some point in the night. In one exchange with Somerset Mayor Alan Keck, Keck said, “I want a Kentucky where we lift each other up and we get stuff done, that’s exactly what I’ve done.”

“Kumbaya doesn’t work anymore,” Deters interjected.

“It did in Somerset,” Keck responded.

“No, it hasn’t. You’ve got a drug problem and a water problem,” Deters shot back before Shaw resumed a question on the 2020 election.

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Miller said Deters’ strategy may pick support among far-right, “MAGA”-type voters but won’t help in the General Election, and that’s if he gets there. Future debates are an opportunity for the lower polling candidates to move the needle by possibly 1 or 2 points, and in a race with approximately 15% voter turnout expected, that 1% could make a difference.

Next Tuesday night, voters have a chance to hear from three of the leading candidates for the Republican nomination for governor. Daniel Cameron, Ryan Quarles, and Eric Deters will be in the FOX 56 studio, answering questions on issues important to the Commonwealth.

The FOX 56 Republican gubernatorial debate is Tuesday, May 9 from 7 to 8 p.m.