LOUISVILLE -- A Kentucky state senator and a former aide to Sen. Mitch McConnell are battling over who's the real conservative in the Republican primary for state attorney general.
State Sen. Wil Schroder of Wilder, a former county prosecutor, holds a GOP leadership position and calls himself a Trump Republican.
Daniel Cameron, 33, went to Washington to serve as McConnell's lawyer after years in private practice. He worked with the Senate Judiciary Committee on the confirmation of several conservative judges, including U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, a Trump appointee.
The winner will face former Kentucky Attorney General Greg Stumbo, who held the office from 2004 to 2008, in the November general election.
Kentucky hasn't elected a Republican attorney general in 70 years. But the state is now dominated by GOP officeholders, with Republicans capturing the governor's office and winning super majorities in the state legislature. In 2015, the Republican nominee for attorney general, Whitney Westerfield, lost by about 2,000 votes to Democrat Andy Beshear.
Beshear is now running for governor, forgoing a second term.
Both Schroder and Cameron say Beshear has been too focused on running for governor during his four years in the state's top law enforcement job. Beshear has often clashed with Republican Gov. Matt Bevin in the courts, suing him multiple times for his use of executive authority.
Schroder, 36, the son of a former state Supreme Court justice, says he's the only candidate who has worked as a prosecutor and has held a statewide leadership position as chairman of the Senate's state and local government committee. "I'm the only one who has a proven track record of standing up for conservative values," Schroder said in a phone interview. He points to anti-abortion legislation passed by the General Assembly since he joined the state Senate in 2015 -- some of it currently in limbo because of pending court challenges.
Cameron, who played football at the University of Louisville, said the attorney general's office has too often "put politics over people." He said one of the highlights of his tenure in McConnell's office was helping to increase funding for northern Kentucky counties to investigate drug trafficking.
"We need to return this office to its proper role as the chief law enforcement officer here in the Commonwealth of Kentucky and re-establish the credibility of the office," Cameron said. "I think we really need someone in this office who wants to be there for eight years."
Cameron said he wants to give the Attorney General's office a presence outside of Frankfort, perhaps by opening a satellite office or moving an assistant attorney general into eastern or western Kentucky.
He deflects criticism that he's never prosecuted a case by saying he has a long record of supporting law enforcement and helping bring in federal money through the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
"I think I am well suited to lead the office because of the relationships I've built with law enforcement, the trust I've built with law enforcement," Cameron said by phone.
In recent weeks, Schroder released an ad in which he fired a gun at a TV to protest the negative campaign he said Cameron was running. Cameron supporters issued flyers that say Schroder used to identify as a Democrat several years ago.
Schroder said Presidents Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump also switched parties, as have many voters in Kentucky in recent years. He also said Cameron is benefitting from third-party groups funneling money into the race.
"I think that's why he's gone negative," Schroder said. "He knows we're close and it's a desperate attempt to discredit this campaign and discredit me." Schroder has raised about $159,000 for his campaign, and has spent all but about $10,000 of it, according to campaign finance reports up to May 6. Cameron had about $241,000 in campaign funds left to spend as of that same date.
Cameron said he has no control over third-party groups and who they choose to support.
"I find it somewhat disconcerting that someone who claims to be a conservative, who claims to want to protect the First Amendment rights of all Kentuckians and all Americans, then has an issue with a group that has decided to express their First Amendment rights," Cameron said.
The state's primary election is May 21.