Price on Politics: Kelly Craft running for Governor

Price Wilborn, Commentary Editor

OPINION: The Good Stuff Coffee & More was buzzing with excitement around lunchtime on Thursday, May 4. Kentuckians from Bowling Green and the surrounding areas had come to the coffee shop for the 105th of Kelly Craft’s Kitchen Table Talks. 

Craft, the former United States Ambassador to Canada and then to the United Nations, has held Kitchen Table Talks all across the commonwealth. They have been the Ambassador’s flagship campaign stop, connecting with her message of bringing politics back to the kitchen table while giving her the opportunity to talk to Kentuckians one on one.

Craft was joined at The Good Stuff Coffee & More by her running mate, State Senator Max Wise, who represents District 16 in the Kentucky State Senate. Wise’s district encompasses part of Warren County. 

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Wise’s claim to fame in the Kentucky Republican Party is as the sponsor of Senate Bill 150, which attacks the rights of transgender youth in the commonwealth. The bill was the subject of a lot of intense debate during the 2023 Regular Legislative Session, but at The Good Stuff Coffee & More, the support for the bill was clear.

“That bill was for all of us. It’s not just for me. That bill was for the entire conservative movement […] We took a stand this legislative session to say, in our Kentucky public schools, there’s two bathrooms. There’s not a question mark on a bathroom,” Wise said, eliciting loud cheers from those in attendance.

Following Wise was United States Representative James Comer, who represents Kentucky’s First District, which includes much of West Kentucky up through parts of Central Kentucky. Representative Comer is the Chair of the House Oversight Committee, making it his personal mission to investigate President Joe Biden and his family for anything and everything that he can. Comer is the only member of the commonwealth’s Congressional delegation to have endorsed a gubernatorial candidate, with other members of the delegation staying neutral until after the May 16 primary.

While Senator Wise spoke on SB 150 and other Kentucky GOP issues, Representative Comer hit all the national talking points. The WKU graduate began his brief remarks by praising Senator Wise, saying that, as lieutenant governor, Wise would be “accessible, he will be knowledgeable, he will be professional, he will be hard-working.”

Comer said that he had been traveling with Craft and Wise for days, but remarked that “I can’t even think of the current lieutenant governor’s name.” (Her name is Jacqueline Coleman, by the way.)

After praising Wise, Comer began hitting the GOP talking points. There was a heavy focus on President Biden and Comer’s efforts to fight him in Washington. Many may think that this is unnecessary in a race for Kentucky governor, but the fact is that this will help Craft gain votes. Many Kentucky Republican voters are die-hard Donald Trump supporters, and by extension are die-hard Biden haters.

Comer painted himself as fighting the president, and his support of Craft brings the Ambassador under this umbrella. She has previously said that she is going to fight China and illegal immigrants because Democrats like Andy Beshear and Joe Biden are not doing enough, and Comer’s support provides legitimacy to this. Voters will gravitate toward this, so Craft will continue to capitalize on it.

Near the end of his remarks, Comer told supporters present, “if you want to drain the swamp in Frankfort then vote for Kelly Craft.” This again invoked Donald Trump, who ran on “draining the swamp” in 2016. Even though Attorney General Daniel Cameron received the former president’s endorsement in the race, Craft worked for him, and as such will work to draw as many similarities to Trump as she can.

Throughout Craft’s campaign, she has put emphasis on her Kentucky roots. The campaign signs that were posted throughout the coffee shop read “Vote for the Girl from Glasgow!” Within seconds of beginning to speak, she reminded the audience of where she was from and that “I have never forgotten where I come from.”

This is important for Craft. Much of the Kentucky GOP base is tired of “the establishment” and is ready for something new. Kelly Craft not only worked in Washington, but, along with her husband, has been one of the largest Republican donors in the nation. Showing that she is a Kentuckian running for Kentuckians will help her against attacks that say she is part of the swamp she wants to drain while giving her campaign extra legitimacy in the eyes of Kentucky voters.

Craft’s stump speech focused heavily on three issues: education, the economy and the opioid crisis. Early in her speech, she said, “When I talk about jobs, education and drugs, that’s because I’ve lived it. I’ve lived it, I’ve created it and I’ve felt it.”

Much of Craft’s campaign has been focused on getting “woke ideologies” out of Kentucky’s public schools. This largely includes the provisions laid out in Senator Wise’s SB 150 but also includes things like Critical Race Theory and “dismantling the [Kentucky] Department of Education ASAP.”

Craft wants to grow Kentucky’s economy by making sure people do not have to leave the state to make a living. “We are competing with Indiana and Tennessee,” she said. “And I don’t know about y’all, but I am tired of losing to Tennessee on the economy.”

“I’ve told [the other southern governors], I’m introducing a third new sport to the Southeastern Conference, and it’s called the economy.” Not only does Craft focus on competing with Indiana, Tennessee and other states around Kentucky, but she promises that Kentucky will win these competitions.

The Ambassador proposes doing this through using Kentucky’s fossil fuels to continue creating energy for the commonwealth and beyond while retaining a focus on small businesses and ensuring they are able to grow and thrive.

As for drugs, Craft promises a crackdown across the state and more support for law enforcement. She told the crowd at The Good Stuff Coffee & More that she will work with governors across the nation to help prevent immigrants from entering the nation. “I’m going to be calling Governor Abbott in Texas. Let me know when they’re coming across that border. […] We will all be working together because we don’t want them in our state, they’re not welcome.”

“I’ve made it very clear with the cartels, traffickers,” Craft said. “Anyone who provides drugs to a Kentuckian that takes their lives: as governor, I will sign your death warrant. […] We’re going to let everybody know, if you’re a drug dealer, in the cartel, if you come into Kentucky, cross our border, you’re not leaving.”

“Fentanyl is coming across that border as fast as young adults are coming across.”

Following the event, I was able to observe Ambassador Craft work the crowd and talk to those present before getting the opportunity to ask her some questions. Craft shook hands with and spoke with most, if not all, those present at the event. She stood close to them, truly making them feel heard.

I was having a conversation with a man who was at the event when she came up to him and struck up a conversation. I was able to observe their conversation from beginning to end, and one thing was made clear: she makes Kentuckians feel heard. She values the connection she makes with as many Kentuckians, and she makes them feel as if she truly cares.

Craft and the man she was speaking to spoke for 10 to 15 minutes before the Ambassador moved on to the next member of the crowd, but not before she made sure the man’s name and contact information were taken down so she could call him between stops to follow up and continue the conversation.

A few minutes later, the Ambassador approached me, and for nearly 15 minutes she answered my questions.

The word “woke” is something that permeates every aspect of Craft’s campaign. When asked to define it, Craft said, “To me, woke is what we are experiencing right now. It’s something when it goes against the grain of the culture that you’ve been raised with. Family values, values of freedom of democracy, of being aware that we’re losing family. And I can’t let this happen.”

This stems from “radical left ideologies,” Craft said.

“When you’re taught radical left ideologies in the classroom, that doesn’t provide you with skills for the future. […] With woke, woke is not only in our schools. It’s in our hospitals, our businesses, our investing with environmental and social governance. You know, it’s part of our everyday life, and the way I look at this, if we allow this to be normalized, then what’s next?”

Many people do not believe that being woke is a bad thing, however, especially young people. To these people, Craft says that “they need to look at this campaign as someone who has achieved America’s dream, achieved Kentucky’s Dream. Because I’ve worked hard, I’ve earned it, and I have such a dignity, and I give back.”

“I am fighting for your generation, for your children,” Craft continued. “I’m investing […] What I want your generation – what I want your generation to understand is that they have a responsibility to carry forward what’s important in this state. And that’s building community. That’s showing work ethic. That’s keeping your faith in God. We have to have that to continue building our state, or we’re going to lose who we are.”

During the May 1 debate on KET, Craft and the other candidates on stage with her expressed their support for allowing college students over the age of 21 years old to carry weapons on their college campuses. 

When asked about students and faculty who might feel unsafe with campus carry, Craft told me that “I’m not going to touch your Second Amendment or your due process. I don’t believe that the Second Amendment ends where a college campus begins.”

“And you have to obviously look at the safety issues,” Craft continued. “If we just follow the laws that are on the books, and we make certain that we check all those off,  then you’re going to see a lot less individuals with mental health issues.”

Craft said that in a Craft-Wise administration, mental health would be the focus of ending mass shootings and gun violence, and that this begins with ending the stigma surrounding mental health.

In my conversation with the Ambassador, Craft offered little in concrete policy proposals, making sure to hit the same Republican talking points over and over again.

And while Kelly Craft and I agree on very little, what is obvious is that she will be a hard candidate for Daniel Cameron to defeat on May 16 and for Andy Beshear to defeat in November. She takes time to truly connect with voters and supporters, not only hearing what they have to say but engaging with them right then and following up with them soon after to continue the conversation.

Her message is clear: protect what she feels has always made Kentucky what it is while preventing overwhelming change. This will only send Kentucky backward in time, much like what happened with the passing of SB 150, but Craft thinks that is okay. She wants to preserve Kentucky’s traditions and “values” that have wide support in the state, as seen by the Republican supermajorities in both houses of the state legislature.

Craft makes it clear to her voters, too, that she is running not because she wants the position, but because she sees work that can be done.

“I don’t need a job,” she told me. “But I see one that needs to be done, and I can do it.”

Commentary editor Price Wilborn can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @pricewilborn.

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