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With frontrunners declining the invite, three GOP candidates for governor make their case in debate

Associated Press

The frontrunners for the GOP gubernatorial nomination — Attorney General Daniel Cameron and former UN Ambassador Kelly Craft — opted not to attend a debate hosted by WKYT and Transylvania University Monday night, but viewers did hear from three of the candidates hoping to pull off an upset in the homestretch of the primary.

State Auditor Mike Harmon, Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, and conservative activist Eric Deters were in virtual lockstep on a number of issues — from stopping any new exceptions to Kentucky's abortion ban to eliminating the income tax to axing the state's current education commissioner.

Despite the increased attention on guns following the recent mass shooting in Louisville, all were firm in their stance that Second Amendment rights be protected. The candidates largely pivoted to a discussion of mental health, with each giving their answers a different twist.

Candidate Quarles pointed to a program called Raising Hope at the Department of Ag, which raises awareness of mental health options.

"I think we can scale this up," he said," So I actually already have a platform that's already there in the Department of Ag that's ready to go... And we've got to get rid of the stigma that is unfairly attached to those suffering from mental health issues."

Auditor Harmon stressed religion and faith as antidotes to a society that he said is devaluing life.

"Sadly, we've had a crisis in families. We've had a crisis in faith. And when people fill their hearts with something other than God, they fill them with hate, they fill them with anger, with whatever, then we see these problems," Harmon said.

Deters, meanwhile, suggested more guns could have helped stop the shooting in Louisville, and blamed the pharmaceutical industry for the current attitude toward mental health.

"Big pharma took over treating our mental health patients and we need to do a lot better job than just give them medicine and turn them out on society," Deters answered.

None of the candidates expressed support for any kind of gun control, including red flag laws.

The debate comes as candidates have fewer than two weeks to make their case to primary voters.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.