Republican State Senator Drops Out Of AG Race
Facing a strong primary challenge from an ally of powerful U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky state Senator withdrew from the 2019 attorney general's race on Friday.
The decision by Republican Whitney Westerfield gives a clear path, for the moment, to a GOP nomination for Daniel Cameron, a lawyer who has never run for public office before but spent two years in Washington helping McConnell confirm conservative federal judges as his top lawyer.
"The McConnell team is helping Daniel, and that certainly is something to be considered," Westerfield said. "Our family has grown since when I first announced I was going to run in 2019. It takes a lot of effort to put on a statewide race. I think I would rather stay home with them."
A former prosecutor, Westerfield has been in the state Senate since 2013, where he worked to convince more conservative lawmakers to support changes to the state's criminal justice system. He was the 2015 Republican nominee for attorney general, but lost a close race to Democrat Andy Beshear.
Westerfield announced his second attorney general campaign in August of 2017, more than two years before the election. He had hoped the early start would help him raise enough money, something that hurt him in the 2015 race.
But Kentucky's political climate has changed since his last attempt. Republican Donald Trump was elected president and is overwhelmingly popular in Kentucky. Westerfield has been a Trump critic, tweeting during the campaign that Trump "has no clue." Those statements could have hurt Westerfield in a Republican primary one year ahead of Trump's re-election campaign.
Plus, Cameron is getting help from McConnell's team, putting him in an unusually strong position for a first-time candidate.
"I don't' know if (Westerfield withdrawing) has anything to do with me. Running for a statewide race is tough. It's a decision every person has to make for themselves," Cameron said. "Whitney is a strong and effective leader here in Kentucky and, more important than that, I know he is a man of God and of strong faith and I certainly respect his decision to withdraw. I know he didn't take it lightly. I recognize the Lord will continue to use him in the General Assembly and from there."
Westerfield did not say if he would endorse Cameron, saying "we'll see what happens" by Tuesday's 4 p.m. deadline to file for statewide office.
Beshear is not seeking re-election, choosing to run for governor instead. Former Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo has said he plans to run for attorney general, an office he held from 2004 to 2008.