Gubernatorial nominee's plans to attend rally spark Republican infighting in Kentucky

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FILE - Kentucky gubernatorial candidates, from left, Eric Deters, Daniel Cameron, Kelly Craft, Ryan Quarles and Alan Keck get ready before the start of the Kentucky Gubernatorial GOP Primary Debate in Lexington, Ky., May 1, 2023. On Friday, June 30, Republican infighting erupted in Kentucky over gubernatorial nominee Cameron's plans to attend a rally sponsored by Deters, who is now looking to challenge an incumbent GOP congressman next year. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley, File)

FRANKFORT, Ky. – Republican infighting has erupted in Kentucky over gubernatorial nominee Daniel Cameron's plans to attend a rally sponsored by an ex-rival who is now looking to challenge an incumbent GOP congressman next year.

That congressman, Thomas Massie, bluntly said Friday it would be a mistake for Cameron to attend the September rally to be hosted by Eric Deters in northern Kentucky — a GOP-leaning region where Democrat Andy Beshear made crucial inroads four years ago in winning the governorship. Cameron, the state's Republican attorney general, is trying to unseat Beshear in one of the nation's most closely watched campaigns in 2023.

Cameron's plan to associate himself with Deters at the event “damages the AG’s credibility and jeopardizes his election,” the veteran congressman said in an emailed statement.

Cameron scored a convincing victory in the crowded May GOP gubernatorial primary, while Deters lagged far behind in fourth place. Since then, Deters has edged closer toward challenging Massie in next year's Republican primary, having indicated he plans to announce his candidacy for the 4th District seat at the September “Freedom Fest” event at his northern Kentucky farm.

Deters — known for his allegiance to Donald Trump and sharing the ex-president's no-holds-barred style — says he'll do everything he can to help get Cameron elected. Deters said on social media Friday that Massie was “putting his own interests” ahead of Cameron and GOP voters, and that Massie was “jealous” about what an “incredible event” is planned. Deters says Cameron will be a “special guest” at the rally.

Cameron's campaign said Friday it's still finalizing his schedule but reiterated that Cameron plans to attend. The campaign didn't respond to the backlash that has come from Massie and one of the congressman's key allies — Republican state Rep. Savannah Maddox. The development, first reported by the Courier Journal in Louisville, underscores the challenges Cameron faces in uniting different factions within the GOP, the state's dominant political party.

Maddox warned Friday that Cameron's decision to attend the Deters-sponsored event has stirred an outcry among conservatives in the sprawling congressional district, which spans northern Kentucky and includes suburban areas south of Cincinnati, Ohio, that loom as a key battleground this fall.

“I find it hard to believe, and folks that I’ve spoken with find it hard to believe, that a Republican nominee for governor would attend the campaign launch event for someone who wants to try to defeat Congressman Thomas Massie," Maddox said by phone Friday.

Maddox made her own months-long run for governor before exiting the primary campaign late last year. Deters has frequently targeted both Massie and Maddox for harsh criticism.

Massie and Maddox characterized Cameron's plans to show up at the rally as a miscalculation.

“The polls show it’s going to be a close race this November with not a lot of room for mistakes,” Massie said. “Attendance at this rally would be a mistake and I think Cameron’s seasoned advisors know that.”

Meanwhile, Beshear's campaign characterized the GOP infighting as a sign that Cameron “can’t even manage to bring his party together.”

As Kentucky's chief law enforcement official, Cameron's attendance at the event could lead to even more fallout. Deters pleaded guilty earlier this year to charges stemming from chasing his nephew in a truck at his farm after he was flipped off.

Deters says the September event is to be headlined by Trump and is to feature speeches from Trump’s adult sons and other prominent conservative figures. A Trump campaign spokesman did not immediately respond to a question Friday about whether he would attend. Trump endorsed Cameron early in Kentucky's GOP primary campaign, providing a crucial boost for Cameron in winning the nomination.

Trump has his own history with Massie, whom he criticized during his time as president for trying to stall a sweeping coronavirus aid package in early 2020. Two years later, Massie was back in Trump's good graces, winning Trump’s endorsement ahead of Kentucky's primary.

The libertarian-minded Massie has trounced his GOP challengers in the past on his way to reelection in the Republican-dominated district. Massie is backing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis -- a leading Trump rival -- in the Republican campaign for president in 2024.