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KY voters decide Tuesday which Republican has the best shot at reclaiming governorship

On Tuesday, voters will pare down a 12-candidate field for the Republican nomination for governor. A contentious and expensive primary season is coming to an end as GOP voters choose who they think is most capable of unseating Democratic Governor Andy Beshear in November. It’s a job Republicans have struggled to hold, despite a strong showing in other races.

While the first Saturday in May is known for the Kentucky Derby, the third Tuesday in May is a political derby. Twelve Republicans are jockeying to represent their party in the November general election contest for governor. By now, most voters already have a horse in the race and will place their bets tomorrow at the ballot box on who has the best chance of retaking Kentucky’s highest office from Democrats.

“One family, father and son, have ruled Kentucky for 24 years, and now they’re asking for another four years, stated Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles. "Do we want a family dynasty in Kentucky or do we want to do something else?”

Quarles spoke last month at the Southern Kentucky Lincoln Day Dinner in Bowling Green.

Despite Republican victories in other statewide races and its control of the state legislature and all but one congressional seat, the Kentucky GOP has struggled to win the governorship.

Public polling suggests Quarles is the third-most likely contender to win the GOP nomination for governor. Former UN Ambassador Kelly Craft has the next best odds, and Attorney General Daniel Cameron is the favorite in this political derby.

"We know that Democratic leadership in Washington and a Democratic governor have come together to create a perfect storm of conditions, that if left unchecked, will destroy our values," said Cameron at the same political fundraiser last month in Warren County.

Cameron describes the past four years of Democratic governorship as a period of pandemic shutdowns, higher homicide rates in larger cities, a coal industry under attack, and less parental influence in schools.

"When Governor Beshear wanted to shut down churches, I went to federal court and I got churches reopened in the commonwealth of Kentucky. When President Biden wanted to send vaccine mandates onto Kentucky, I went to federal court and got those vaccine mandates stopped in the commonwealth of Kentucky," explained Cameron. "And I'm not ashamed to say that, as a result of our office and pro-life legislation passed by our legislature, since last August, the abortion facilities have been closed in the commonwealth of Kentucky."

Cameron is working to get across the finish line Tuesday, knowing Kelly Craft is on his heels. The former diplomat has narrowed the gap with Cameron, even though she’s been the target of national criticism after recently suggesting she wouldn’t allow transgender students in public schools. She’s frequently targeted the Kentucky Department of Education and its commissioner, Jason Glass.

"I'm going to take it apart and put it back together because there are great people in the Kentucky Department of Education. They've just been silenced by this woke commissioner Glass, and if he does the right thing on the day after the election, he's going to resign," Craft stated at the Southern Kentucky Lincoln Day Dinner. "If not, I'm going to do the right thing, and on inauguration day, I'm going to fire him."

Kentucky law doesn’t allow the governor to dismantle the state department of education. That’s a move that would have to be made by the state legislature.

Craft has hit hard on another recurring campaign theme— securing the southern border, which she claims is easier to cross than it is to get into a University of Kentucky basketball game.

"We are going to have a full court press, and if you are a drug trafficker, in a cartel, or gives our children or grandchildren that costs their life, it my book, that’s the death penalty," stressed Craft.

Another candidate hoping to win Tuesday's primary is Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles. The farmer has avoided mud-slinging against his fellow Republicans during the primary season, and has instead gone after Gov. Beshear as the “shutdown governor.”

“He shut down main street, but the big box stores got to stay open. That wasn't fair," commented Quarles. "He kept our kids out of the classroom longer than what was necessary and now we wonder why our test scores are down. That wasn't fair. And he sent state troopers to our churches on Easter Sunday just three years ago, violating our rights as Americans."

Like others seeking the GOP nomination, Quarles said he's in the best position to beat Beshear in the November general election. The former state representative won 117 of Kentucky's 120 counties in his race for agriculture commissioner.

According to Medium Buying, a group that tracks spending on election advertisements, the top Republican hopefuls in Tuesday's primary have spent a combined $10 million trying to cast themselves as the most formidable opponent to Gov. Beshear, who polling suggests, is the most popular Democratic governor in the country. The first-term incumbent faces two lesser-known challengers in the Democratic primary and is expected to easily win his party’s nomination.

Top Republican gubernatorial candidates are pulling out all of the stops in the final days of campaigning. Attorney General Daniel Cameron is on an eight-city “Fight for the Commonwealth Tour” that ends this afternoon in Lexington. On Sunday, he was joined by former President Donald Trump for a virtual campaign rally. Kelly Craft campaigned with Texas Senator Ted Cruz over the weekend while Ryan Quarles spent the weekend on a Big Red Truck Tour across 23 cities.

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.