Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles has entered the state's 2023 governor's race, looking to cultivate his ties to Republican rural areas into a winning formula in what's shaping up as a highly competitive race for the GOP nomination to challenge Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear.
Quarles told a GOP gathering Saturday night in Lexington that he will seek the state's top elected position. He officially announced his candidacy in a taped interview on WKYT-TV’s Kentucky Newsmakers program that aired Sunday. Quarles, a former state lawmaker, will follow up with a June 1 event in Scott County, where he’s from, to lay out his agenda for the state.
In the WKYT interview, Quarles touted his “strong track record of executive leadership” and said there’s an “undercurrent” of dissatisfaction that makes Beshear vulnerable.
Beshear will seek a second term in next year's election, and recent polling has shown the governor receiving high favorable ratings from Kentuckians for his job performance. The governor has stressed his stewardship of the Bluegrass State’s economy while leading Kentucky through the COVID-19 pandemic. The state’s two largest-ever economic development announcements — both related to battery production for electric vehicles — have come during his term.
But the governor faces a tough reelection fight in a state trending heavily toward Republicans.
Beshear's handling of the pandemic will be an issue in the campaign. Quarles and other Republicans contend he overreached by imposing restrictions during much of the pandemic. The governor says his actions saved lives, especially before vaccines became widely available.
Quarles, in his second term as agriculture commissioner, has long been seen as a gubernatorial contender. He's built his name recognition in rural GOP strongholds as he looks to develop a broad coalition. His entry into the race could signal a flurry of announcements in coming weeks and months from other Republicans aspiring to win the governorship.
At a Republican gathering earlier Saturday in Oldham County, Quarles tried to link Beshear to President Joe Biden, pointing to the financial pinch from surging inflation and fuel prices.
“If there’s one thing we can all agree on today, is that Gov. Andy Beshear and President Biden both need to be one-termers,” Quarles said.
The emerging campaign for the GOP gubernatorial nomination next year will divide allegiances among the state's growing Republican base.
“We know that it’s going to be a long process and that it’s going to be a crowded primary," Quarles said during the WKYT program. “And that’s OK. As the Republican Party grows, we have to get more used to having primaries.”
State Auditor Mike Harmon announced last year that he would seek the GOP nomination for governor.
Several other Republicans are seen as weighing gubernatorial bids, including Attorney General Daniel Cameron, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft, state Sens. Ralph Alvarado and Max Wise, state Rep. Savannah Maddox and Somerset Mayor Alan Keck.
With the potential for a bitter free-for-all emerging in the GOP primary, Alvarado pointed to Ronald Reagan's so-called “Eleventh Commandment” not to speak ill of fellow Republicans.
Speaking at the GOP rally in Oldham County, Alvarado stressed that “if we’re 80% in agreement, that we’re an ally and a friend and not that we’re 20% opposed to each other.”
"It’s important because the Democrats are going to try to use that against us and keep us divided,” he said.
Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams, a Republican, said Saturday that he anticipates a large field of GOP candidates for governor next year
“I think we’re going to need more paper for the ballots," he quipped.