On the left: Ag Commissioner Ryan Quarles and Attorney General Daniel Cameron. On the right: State Representative Savannah Maddox; Auditor Mike Harmon; and lawyer Eric Deters. Center: Governor Andy Beshear.

Who can beat Beshear?

Bruce Maples
Bruce Maples

The weather has been really pleasant the past few days. And the weather folks say it’s going to stay that way for the next week or so.

Forecasting: one of the tougher professions out there. Weather forecasting, financial forecasting, sports forecasting – all fraught with the danger of being very, very wrong and winding up with egg on your face.

And yet we do it, even given the risk. Including me, and politics.

A look at the 2023 opponents for governor

Right now there are 12 persons who have filed with KREF to run for governor: Democrat Andy Beshear, one Independent, one Other, and nine Republicans. Of those Republicans, four are not “serious” candidates, based on their money raised to date.

The remaining five look like this when it comes to fund-raising:

  • Ryan Quarles – $575,506
  • Daniel Cameron – $300,521
  • Savannah Maddox – $110,062
  • Eric Deters – $66,420
  • Mike Harmon – $42,610

Of course, it’s relatively early days, so this ranking could change. But right now, it appears there are two front-runners, another person close at their heels, and two out of the race. One of those two, Deters, is currently suing (and being sued by) his campaign consultant, Corey Lewandowski (yes, that Lewandowski). The other, Mike Harmon, has just not been able to strike a fire in his campaign. Frankly, I think he has mostly done a good job as auditor, and probably should have run for that office again.

Quarles vs Cameron vs Maddox

Let’s start with Savannah Maddox. To put it bluntly, she has pretty much no shot.

For one thing, she doesn’t have the statewide campaign experience that the other two have. She has name recognition in certain quarters, but certainly not like the other two. And she is not a favorite of party leadership; they see her as too extreme.

And who can forget her repeated appearances at various far-right rallies, including one where Beshear was hung in effigy? If she were to win the nomination, Beshear would win by double digits. (And heaven help us all if she were actually to become governor.) So, unless something changes drastically, we can take Maddox off the board.

At this point, Daniel Cameron is getting all the attention, both because of his office and what he’s doing with it, and his performance at the Republican dinner the night before Fancy Farm. His battles over abortion keep him constantly in the news, and he makes a point of checking all the social-issue boxes for the right wing. And, he has Trump’s endorsement, and McConnell’s backing.

But he has some problems. For one thing, he has nowhere near enough experience or qualifications to be governor, which will get emphasized again and again by Quarles in the primary. And, if Cameron were to win the nomination, Beshear would hammer it even more.

The Trump endorsement may have a short shelf life. If Trump winds up disgraced (or more disgraced) by next year, Cameron may regret adding that to his resume. And, there’s the Taylor grand jury fiasco. So, I think Cameron will fade once Republican voters take a closer look. And if he does win the nomination, I think Beshear beats him pretty handily.

Ryan Quarles is an interesting contrast to Cameron. He does not have nearly as much name recognition across the state. Most people could not even tell you what office he holds right now. (He’s the Agriculture Commissioner.) That is a problem – but it can be cured with enough money and ads.

Cameron has McConnell and Trump – but Quarles appears to have the state party leadership. He’s released a long list of endorsement from party officials. And, while Cameron gets the cameras (ha!), Quarles is quietly raising money and building a ground game in the background.

At this point, I think Quarles puts on the steam starting in January, and is the clear front-runner to win the nomination. And if he does, he will be hard to beat, because he knows how to run a strong campaign. I think Beshear would beat him, but it would be close.

The wildcard

Then there’s Kelly Craft. She has a pretty strong resume, as outlined in her article on Wikipedia:

“Kelly Dawn Craft (née Guilfoil; born February 24, 1962) is an American businesswoman, political donor, philanthropist, and former diplomat who served as the United States ambassador to the United Nations from 2019 to 2021. Craft previously served as the United States ambassador to Canada from 2017 to 2019, the first woman to hold the office. She earlier was appointed by President George W. Bush as a US alternate delegate to the United Nations in 2007, where her focus included US engagement in Africa. Craft serves on the advisory board of the Canadian American Business Council[3] and heads Kelly G. Knight LLC, a business advisory firm based in Lexington, Kentucky.”

And, she’s the wife of Joe Craft, the uber-wealthy coal magnate. Why does that matter? Because rumor has it that she will write a check to her campaign for $500,000 the day she announces, thus wiping out Quarles’s fund-raising advantage.

Then there’s this:

Craft is reported to be planning on announcing in September. If she gets into the race, it will make things very interesting, to say the least.

Will she win the nomination? It depends on who she has helping her. As far as I know, she has never run a campaign at any level. I don’t know how she would be on the stump, or how she would react to attack ads. She’s really an unknown.

In the end, I think Quarles can still win, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Kraft can buy the advice and expertise she needs.

If she makes it out of the primary, I think she can beat Beshear. Again, money solves a lot of problems. While Quarles and Cameron will go after each other and leave their supporters angry at the other candidate, Craft can unite the Republican party if she wins. And Repubs would love to put a woman in the governor’s mansion. (“See, we support women!”)

Time will tell. We’ve still got this year’s midterms to deal with. But 2023 is going to be very interesting.

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This was originally written as a Daily Take, a morning email by me containing my thoughts on issues of the day. It is a perk of the Partner membership, so if you want to sign up for the Daily Take, you need to be a member at the Partner level. Learn more here.

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Bruce Maples has been involved in politics and activism since 2004, when he became active in the Kerry Kentucky movement. (Read the rest of his bio on the Bruce Maples Bio page in the bottom nav bar.)

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