Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles has entered the state’s 2023 gubernatorial race, seeking to cultivate his ties to rural Republicans in a winning formula in what is shaping up to be a highly competitive race for the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic Governor Andy Beshear.
Quarles told a GOP rally Saturday night in Lexington that he will seek the state’s highest elected office. He officially announced his candidacy in a taped interview on WKYT-TV’s Kentucky Newsmakers that aired Sunday. Quarles, a former state legislator, will follow up with an event June 1 in Scott County, where he is from, to introduce his agenda for the state.
In the WKYT interview, Quarles touted his “strong record of executive leadership” and said there is an “undercurrent” of dissatisfaction that makes Beshear vulnerable.
Beshear will seek a second term in next year’s election, and recent polls have shown the governor received high favorable ratings from Kentucky residents for his job performance. The Governor has emphasized his stewardship of the Bluegrass State economy as he led Kentucky through the COVID-19 pandemic. The two largest economic development announcements in state history, both related to electric vehicle battery production, came during his tenure.
But the governor faces a tough fight for re-election in a state with a strong Republican bias.
Beshear’s handling of the pandemic will be a campaign theme. Quarles and other Republicans contend that he overstepped the mark 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 candidate. He has built name recognition for himself in rural Republican strongholds as he seeks to develop a broad coalition. His entry into the race could signal a flurry of announcements in the coming weeks and months from other Republicans running for governor.
At a Republican rally Saturday morning in Oldham County, Quarles tried to link Beshear to President Joe Biden, pointing to the financial problem of rising inflation and fuel prices.
“If there is one thing we can all agree on today, it is that both Governor Andy Beshear and President Biden should have a single term,” Quarles said.
The emerging campaign for the Republican nomination for governor next year will divide loyalties 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 during the WKYT show. “And that’s fine. 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 Republican nomination for governor.
Several other Republicans are seen weighing gubernatorial bids, including Attorney General Daniel Cameron, former US Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft, state senators Ralph Alvarado and Max Wise, state Rep. Savannah Maddox and Mayor of Somerset, Alan Keck.
With the potential for a bitter free-for-all in the Republican primary, Alvarado pointed to Ronald Reagan’s so-called “Eleventh Commandment” not to speak ill of fellow Republicans.
Speaking at the Oldham County GOP rally, Alvarado emphasized that “if we’re 80% in agreement, we’re an ally and a friend and not 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 Republican candidates for governor next year.
“I think we’re going to need more paper for ballots,” he joked.