Will Kentucky go fully red? It could

Kentucky is already a red state. The GOP holds supermajorities in the Legislature and all but one statewide elected office is held by a Republican.

Gov. Andy Beshear is the last Democrat standing and he’s up for re-election this year.

It should come as no surprise that Republicans lined up to be the one to take out the last statewide Democrat. In all, 12 GOP candidates filed for Governor, but only three candidates are serious contenders — Attorney General Daniel Cameron, Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft.

Of them, Cameron appears the frontrunner. He boasts the strongest name recognition among top-tier candidates and, as one of only a few Black Republicans to hold statewide office in the U.S., is seen as a rising star within the party.

But don’t count out the others. It’s not uncommon in Kentucky for the real campaigning to hold off until closer to March, even with the Primary scheduled for May 16.

Craft is the only candidate so far to run television ads and has banked $1.3 million for the race so far, as of the end of December. Despite deep pockets thanks to marrying billionaire Joe Craft, she’s only reported $32,000 in self-funding. That means she has plenty of wealth to buoy her campaign if it starts looking necessary.

Her early television strategy is smart — she’s the only top-tier candidate in the race who hasn’t run for political office before and she needs the exposure to introduce herself to voters before other campaigns get into full swing. So far she’s done just that, as well as focus on the state’s fentanyl crisis, a talking point that could have cross-party appeal should she manage to make it to the General Election.

Quarles will also put up a fight with strong name recognition as the largely rural state’s Agriculture Commissioner. 

So where does that leave Beshear? He’s in strong position as the incumbent and he’s popular, with a 62% approval rating, according to a September poll from Garin-Hart-Yang, though that’s a Democratic firm. Still, another Morning Consult poll put him at 60% favorability. He also has a massive war chest, with $4.7 million banked as of the end of 2022.

But the state’s demographics will be difficult to overcome. When Beshear was first elected Governor, he beat then-Governor Matt Bevin, who was unpopular. He won by just 0.4 percentage points, a feat considering the state went for Donald Trump in 2016 by 26 points. But that narrow margin could quickly erode if facing a more popular candidate. 

Whether he can repeat his 2019 success, at least until the GOP Primary concludes, is still anyone’s guess.

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