In the wake of Kentucky Republican Gov. Matt Bevin’s almost-certain loss on Tuesday, the conventional wisdom soon began to congeal: This is bad news for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s chances of winning a seventh(!) term next year in the Bluegrass State.
I mean, maybe? State races are a different animal from federal contests. And McConnell’s track record is long and successful. There’s no doubt he will have a real race but I’m not sure Bevin, who McConnell beat in a Senate primary in 2014, going down to defeat tells us all that much about McConnell.
What I am sure of is that McConnell cemented a part of his legacy in the state — and may have put in place his successor — on Tuesday with the election of Daniel Cameron as the state’s attorney general.
Cameron is the first black candidate ever elected as attorney general in Kentucky and the first Republican to hold that office in seven decades. He is also a McConnell protege, having served as the senator’s general counsel from 2015-2017.
“Mitch McConnell did what no @KyDems was able to do, and that is get a non-white Kentuckian elected to statewide office,” tweeted Louisville Courier Journal political reporter Phillip M. Bailey. “A serious feather in the cap for @Team_Mitch and the @KYGOP.”
At 33 years old, Cameron will almost certainly become a national figure within a party absolutely desperate for younger and more diverse faces. He will be installed as the GOP frontrunner for the 2023 race against all-but-certain Gov. Andy Beshear (D). And, whenever McConnell decides to step down — the majority leader is 77 years old — Cameron could well be his preferred replacement.
“A star is born,” Trump said of Cameron at a presidential rally for Kentucky Republicans on Monday night in the state. On Tuesday night, after Cameron’s victory, Trump tweeted: “Great going Daniel, proud of you!
Added McConnell: “Congratulations to @DanielCameronAG, a phenomenal candidate that ran an incredible race. Proud to support the next Attorney General of Kentucky.”
Cameron ran as an unapologetic conservative, which, along with a major assist from McConnell’s organization, helped boost him to a primary win over a sitting state senator and then a relatively easily general election victory over Democrat Greg Stumbo, the former speaker of the state House. (Stumbo was seeking a return to the job he held for four years in the mid-2000s.) Cameron touted his support for Trump’s immigration policies as well as his socially conservative views on abortion.
He also leaned in to the historic nature of his candidacy — most notably in an ad entitled “Lincoln.”
“I grew up in the shadow of Abraham Lincoln just a few miles from his birthplace,” Cameron says in that ad. “It was hard to imagine a little boy who looked like me would someday help a president confirm a Supreme Court justice or even run for attorney general. But here we are.”
And back in 2018 when he was still just considering the race, Cameron told the Courier Journal this about his potential candidacy: “I certainly am cognizant of the fact that this could be a significant milestone, and I don’t shrink from that fact. I fully appreciate what it could mean for Kentucky, what it could mean for the Republican Party.”
Cameron’s win does mean something for Kentucky and for the Republican Party. But it also means a lot for McConnell and how he wants to shape his legacy, as well as the contours of the state and national Republican Party, in the years to come.