Trump’s GOP sway faces first post-midterm test amid DeSantis, Cruz, Ramaswamy proxy fight in Kentucky

A proxy battle among Republican heavyweights has been brewing in Kentucky ahead of a pivotal race to decide which GOP candidate will get the chance to try and take down one of the nation’s few red-state Democratic governors. Voters in the Bluegrass State are heading to the polls Tuesday to cast their ballots for one of 12 candidates in a crowded Republican field that includes former U.N. Ambassador Kelly Craft, state Attorney General Daniel Cameron and Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, the three front-runners. The winner will likely take on incumbent Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, who is expected to easily win renomination. The contest is being viewed as a bellwether for the 2024 presidential and congressional elections as Republicans hope to capitalize on the unpopularity of President Biden and his fellow Democrats. A flurry of high-profile endorsements have flooded the state in recent days, pitting 2024 presidential contenders against each other for what is widely being seen as a battle for the soul of the Republican Party. The choice for Kentucky Republicans appears to be between former President Donald Trump’s continued influence over the party’s politics, or a different direction led by a new wave of rising stars like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy. DESANTIS ENDORSES KELLY CRAFT IN PIVOTAL KENTUCKY GOVERNOR’S RACE, SETTING STAGE FOR EPIC CLASH WITH TRUMP The latter two have sought to pave the way for that new direction by endorsing Craft, a first-time candidate who has never held elected office, but served in the Trump administration as the ambassador to Canada and later as U.N. Ambassador following the resignation of now-presidential candidate Nikki Haley. They were joined by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Trump, however, endorsed Cameron early on in the Kentucky race, and stuck with his choice upon Craft’s entry despite her service in his administration. Cameron has touted that endorsement throughout his campaign, but hasn’t had any other major Republicans fall in line behind his candidacy. In his endorsement of Craft, Ramaswamy asserted Trump was among the “establishment” wing of Republicans, along with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who has not openly endorsed any candidate in the race. Cameron is widely seen as a protégé of McConnell, having worked for him in the past. Ramaswamy tied the race, and what he views as Craft’s “underdog” status” to his own race for president while speaking to Fox News Digital on Monday. “I think one of the most interesting things is that Trump and McConnell went in the same direction here. So that is the establishment. You have a former president, you have somebody who is in the position of Mitch McConnell, and that is the establishment,” Ramaswamy said.  CONTENTIOUS GOVERNOR’S RACE GOES NATIONAL AS CRUZ BACKS FORMER UN AMBASSADOR KELLY CRAFT Ramaswamy has billed himself as “Trump 2.0,” claiming he is the real outsider candidate in the 2024 GOP presidential primary battle against Trump and other contenders. Fox also spoke to a number of strategists and political insiders with knowledge of the race to make sense of the proxy war that has taken shape and why the divide might have formed in the unlikeliest of places. Sources close to Trump told Fox that while the former president likes and respects Craft, he never considered dropping his endorsement of Cameron.  Tyler Glick, a Kentucky-based Republican public affairs consultant, said he didn’t think the coalescing of support behind Craft by Trump’s challengers and other Republican heavy weights would matter because “they were late in the game.” “The Trump endorsement was a huge coup for Cameron. It’s great on a mailer. It’s great on TV,” he said, predicting a win for Cameron on Tuesday. “Cameron hasn’t made any mistakes. He’s a well-liked candidate. GOP voters like him and respect him. I think he’s in a really good position.” KENTUCKY DERBY: INTENSIFYING RACE TO DECIDE WHO WILL CHALLENGE RED-STATE DEMOCRAT ENTERS FINAL STRETCH Veteran Republican strategist Ryan Williams told Fox that the endorsements of Craft were more than just about Tuesday’s primary. He said they had implications for those hoping to gain the support of Craft and her husband, Joe Craft, in their future campaigns. The couple have been major Republican donors for over a decade. “Kelly Craft is essentially up for grabs. In addition to being a political force in the state, she’s a major political contributor. She and her husband have been leading GOP donors for years,” Williams said. “Cameron is in Trump’s camp no matter what, so I think the play here for DeSantis may be even if you don’t endorse the winner in the gubernatorial primary, you may be backing a major donor who could help your campaign,” he added. Polls close Tuesday evening at 6:00 p.m. local time.
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