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'I'm all in:' Republican Kelly Craft officially launches bid for Kentucky governor

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Lisa Autry
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Touting herself as a Christian, conservative, and proud Kentuckian, Kelly Craft has officially launched her campaign for governor.

The wealthy mega donor to GOP politics held a rally outside the courthouse in her native Barren County Tuesday night.

"To whom much is given, much is expected," Craft said. "Right here in Glasgow, at the square, our movement begins!"

Ending more than a year of speculation, Craft announced her candidacy last week.

Although she has never held elected office, Craft worked for former President Donald Trump, first as the U.S. ambassador to Canada and then to the United Nations.

In a crowd of a few hundred supporters was retired cattle farmer Forrest Jones of Bowling Green. He's known the Craft family a long time from the days of her father being a Barren County veterinarian. Jones said this may be the first time he volunteers for a political campaign.

“I'm definitely confident of her chances. She’s a fighter, and what she decides to do, she does her best and is successful," said Jones. "I’ve never been involved in politics, but if she needs me, I’ll be there.”

In her 20-minute speech, Craft went on the attack against the "failed and extreme liberal policies" of Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear and President Joe Biden. Craft blamed Beshear and Biden for what she called unconstitutional pandemic lockdowns, soaring inflation, record gas prices, and illegal drugs coming from the southern border.

"Don't you think we need to fire Andy Beshear?", Craft asked her audience, many of whom responded with applause. "I do too," Craft said.

Craft vowed to protect public education against what she called radical, woke ideologies.

“It’s the ABC’s, it’s not the CRT’s," she said, referencing critical race theory. "I’ll make sure parents are put back in charge of their kids’ education.”

Craft also pledged to fight who she called climate extremists "who are undermining energy security and attacking our way of life."

She accused Beshear of turning his back on Kentucky coal miners.

"Quite simply, Biden declared war on fossil fuels, and Andy Beshear waved a white flag and surrendered," Craft said.

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Lisa Autry
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State Sen. Max Wise of Campbellsville (right) is being considered as a potential running mate for Craft.

Among supporters sharing the stage with Craft was Kentucky Sen. Max Wise of Campbellsville who is being considered as a running mate. When asked by WKU Public Radio if he was interested in being part of a campaign ticket with Craft, Wise was reluctant to say more.

"We've had some conversations, but today is about Kelly Craft," Wise said. "This is about her, her announcement, and her momentum that's going to carry her throughout this primary."

Craft joins a crowded GOP field wanting to unseat incumbent Gov. Andy Beshear in 2023. She's jumping in the race later than several other noteworthy Republicans, including Attorney General Daniel Cameron, Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, Kentucky Auditor Mike Harmon and state Rep. Savannah Maddox.

“Kelly brings a lot of things to the table," Sen. Wise said. "She’s been able to broker deals at the national level. I think she brings a lot of momentum in terms of being from Glasgow, from a small town, but also having international experience. Kelly is going to be a very formidable opponent."

CRAFT LAUNCH.jpg
Lisa Autry
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The Kentucky Democratic Party issued a statement calling Craft’s campaign rollout “phony."

“Bevin-backing billionaire Kelly Craft, who's bought every public office she's ever had and then didn't show up for work, just kicked off her campaign with the phoniest rollout money can buy," KDP Chairman Colmon Elridge said in the group's statement. "But Craft can’t write a check to hide her jaw-dropping lack of qualifications or experience."

Craft is married to billionaire coal magnate Joe Craft. Although she could self-finance her campaign, Craft is expected to be competitive in fundraising against Beshear, who has already raised more than $4 million toward re-election, his campaign announced Tuesday.

Lisa is a Scottsville native and WKU alum. She has worked in radio as a news reporter and anchor for 18 years. Prior to joining WKU Public Radio, she most recently worked at WHAS in Louisville and WLAC in Nashville. She has received numerous awards from the Associated Press, including Best Reporter in Kentucky. Many of her stories have been heard on NPR.