By Bruce Schreiner – The Associated Press
Glasgow, Kentucky (AP) – Describing her time as a United Nations ambassador for Donald Trump, Republican Kelly Craft told a crowd of her hometown residents Tuesday that her work on the world stage showed she was strong enough to “fight for Kentucky values” when she launched her 2023 campaign for the governor.
Looking beyond her many GOP rivals and moving quickly to join a contest that overshadowed Kentucky’s 2022 midterm elections, Kraft focused on Democratic Governor Andy Bashir in a blistering evening address days after announcing her candidacy.
She said Kentuckians have been hit by “Democrat-made disasters” from inflation and pandemic-related shutdowns during Bashir’s tenure. It was part of her effort to link the governor to President Joe Biden, whom Trump defeated in Kentucky in the 2020 election.
“It’s time to respond to Biden’s failed policies that are making life harder and more expensive,” Craft told a few hundred people gathered outside Barren County Courthouse.
Following a strategy that has propelled the Republican Party to dominance in Kentucky, Kraft and other Republican contenders for the governor’s position are attempting to nationalize the race.
They have repeatedly attacked the COVID-related restrictions Bashir imposed on businesses and gatherings earlier in his term. The governor says his actions mirrored the direction of Trump’s coronavirus task force and, more importantly, saved lives.
Kraft, who grew up on a farm in Barren County in south-central Kentucky, entered the crowded Republican primary for governor with the advantage of being able to draw on her family’s wealth to fund her campaign. Kraft spent years cultivating relationships within the Republican Party as she and her husband, coal magnate Joe Kraft, donated millions of dollars to Republican candidates. Bashir, who has maintained strong job acceptance rates from Kentuckians, is seeking a second term in 2023.
Kraft’s entry into the Governor’s Race had long been anticipated. After her speech on Tuesday, Kentucky Democratic President Colmon Elridge referred to it as “the best phone money can buy.”
“But Kraft cannot write a check to hide her lack of incredible qualifications or experience,” he said in a statement.
While transitioning from longtime party activist to political candidate, Kraft sounded themes heard from other Republicans emphasizing her conservative credentials. She lamented Kentucky’s deadly scourge of illegal drugs, described its support for gun rights and vowed to ensure that schoolchildren are taught the basics and “do not awaken extremist ideologies.” She promised to crack down on crime.
“Don’t you think we need to fire Andy Basher?” Kraft said to the applause. “Well, so am I.”
She also played her role in representing the United States as its ambassador to the United Nations.
“President Trump sent me into that snake pit at the United Nations for a reason,” Craft said. “He knew this girl from Kentucky would be strong enough to stand up for America and Kentucky values. And tough enough to stand up to the Chinese Communist Party.”
She later added, “If I can fight for American values at the United Nations, then I can fight for Kentucky values here at home.”
Trump initially appointed Craft as US ambassador to Canada, where she played a role in facilitating the US-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement, Trump’s long-awaited renewal of the North American Free Trade Agreement. The updated trade deal brought manufacturing jobs back to the United States, in doing so “putting Kentucky workers and American workers first,” she said, borrowing an idea reminiscent of Trump.
In 2019, Trump appointed Craft to serve as the United States’ ambassador to the United Nations.
But her ties to Trump, who easily led Kentucky in the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections, have been neutralized by the former president’s endorsement this year of Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s nomination for Bluegrass governor.
In her speech on Tuesday, Kraft denounced Kentucky’s continued increase of A deadly drug overdosewhich rose again last year, surpassing 2,000 deaths in a record number of deaths in the state.
“To restore Kentucky’s promise, we need to stop the endless flow of illegal drugs from Mexico that is destroying the lives of our children,” she said.
Other GOP candidates for governor include state Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Karls, state auditor Mike Harmon, Representative Savannah Maddox and retired attorney Eric Dieters.
The Democratic governor is expected to highlight his management of the state’s economy in asking voters for a second term. Kentucky had records for job creation and investments during his tenure and had the lowest unemployment rates ever.
Bashir also earned bipartisan praise for his administration’s responses to natural disasters — the tornadoes that swept through western Kentucky last December and the historic floods that swept through parts of eastern Kentucky in late July.
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