By BRUCE SCHREINER – Associated Press
Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles entered the state’s 2023 gubernatorial race, seeking to cultivate his rural Republican ties into a winning formula in what is shaping up to be a very competitive for the GOP nomination to challenge Democratic Governor Andy Beshear.
Quarles said at a Saturday night GOP rally in Lexington that he would seek the top job in the state. He officially announced his candidacy in an interview taped on WKYT-TV’s Kentucky Newsmakers show that aired Sunday. Quarles, a former state legislator, will follow with a June 1 event in Scott County, where he is from, to outline his agenda for the state.
In the WKYT interview, Quarles touted his “strong track record of executive leadership” and said there was an “undercurrent” of dissatisfaction that makes Beshear vulnerable.
Beshear will seek a second term in next year’s election, and a recent poll showed the governor receiving high marks from Kentucky residents for his job performance. The governor highlighted his handling of the Bluegrass State economy while leading Kentucky through the COVID-19 pandemic. The state’s two most significant economic development announcements — both related to electric vehicle battery production — occurred during his tenure.
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But the governor faces an uphill battle for re-election in a state with a strong Republican leaning.
Beshear’s handling of the pandemic will be an issue in the campaign. Quarles and other Republicans argue he went too far in imposing restrictions for 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 considered a candidate for governor. He has built his notoriety in rural GOP strongholds as he seeks to develop a broad coalition. His entry into the race could signal a flurry of announcements in the weeks and months to come from other Republicans aspiring to win the governorship.
At a Republican rally earlier Saturday in County Oldham, Quarles attempted to link Beshear to President Joe Biden, pointing to the financial pinch of soaring inflation and fuel prices.
“If there’s one thing we can all agree on today, it’s that Governor Andy Beshear and President Biden both need to be in office,” Quarles said.
The emerging campaign for the GOP gubernatorial nomination next year will split allegiances among the state’s growing Republican base.
“We know it’s going to be a long process and it’s going to be a crowded primary,” Quarles said on the WKYT program. “And that’s okay. 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 weighing the gubernatorial bids, including Attorney General Daniel Cameron, former US Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft, senses. Ralph Alvarado and Max Wise, State Representative 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 County Oldham, Alvarado pointed out that “if we are 80% in agreement, that we are an ally and a friend and not that we are opposed to 20% one to the other”.
“It’s important because the Democrats are going to try to use this against us and keep us divided,” he said.
Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams, a Republican, said Saturday he expects a wide range of GOP candidates for governor next year
“I think we’re going to need more paper for the ballots,” he joked.
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