FRANKFORT, Ky. – Kelly Craft set a fast pace for raising and spending campaign cash in late 2022, overtaking her Republican rivals in fundraising while pouring more than $1 million into her bid to become Kentucky's next governor, according to the latest campaign-finance reports.
Her closest fundraising rivals in the GOP primary — Attorney General Daniel Cameron and state Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles — stockpiled considerably more cash by the end of the year than Craft, who served as United Nations ambassador for former President Donald Trump.
The competition for campaign cash will intensify as GOP gubernatorial hopefuls step up their outreach to try to break through the crowded field for the state's May primary. The winner is expected to pose a formidable challenge to Democratic incumbent Gov. Andy Beshear, who has maintained high approval ratings in a state that continues to trend toward Republicans.
That's one reason Kentucky’s hotly contested governor’s race in 2023 will be closely watched nationally, coming the year before the next presidential election. The Bluegrass State race has been pegged as the Democratic Governors Association’s top priority in 2023.
Beshear, who is seeking a second term, continued to build a hefty campaign stockpile. He raised more than $646,000 in the last quarter of 2022, lifting his total to nearly $5.2 million. He had more than $4.7 million on hand.
The governor touts the state's unprecedented gains in economic development and work to improve infrastructure during his tenure. Responding to his latest campaign-finance numbers, Beshear thanked "everyone who donated to help ensure that we can continue this progress.”
Craft already has gotten a head start on TV advertising, launching a biographical ad in the final days of 2022 to make her more familiar to Kentuckians. The ad contributed to her campaign's spending spree, which surpassed $1 million as Craft built her campaign apparatus. Craft's quarterly expenditures were more than three times the combined amount spent by Cameron and Quarles last year.
Replenishing her campaign coffers will be no problem for Craft, who can always tap into her family’s wealth. So far, she has mostly resisted doing so, having personally loaned her campaign less than $32,000. Craft spent years cultivating connections within the GOP as she and her husband, coal magnate Joe Craft, donated millions of dollars to Republican candidates.
Craft raised more than $547,000 in the final quarter of 2022, lifting her total amount raised to nearly $1.3 million since entering the campaign, her finance report showed.
“Kentuckians from across our commonwealth are coming together to show that we are united in a call for real change and conservative principles in government," Craft said in a statement.
Cameron, who was endorsed by Trump before Craft entered the race, reported raising more than $259,000 in the last three months of 2022. Quarles had been the pacesetter in the GOP field but his fundraising faltered in the most recent quarter, when he took in more than $54,000. Quarles’ campaign, however, had more than $874,000 on hand at the end of 2022, Cameron had over $712,000 in the bank and Craft trailed with more than $230,000 on hand, according to campaign finance documents.
“Quarles has smartly hoarded cash, and he’ll need all of that money and then some to bring his name ID up to Cameron’s level,” said Scott Jennings, a Kentucky-based Republican political commentator and former adviser to former President George W. Bush.
As for Craft, her campaign finance report “matters a little less than the other campaigns” since she can always dip into her family's money, Jennings said. Building on her connections within the party, Craft has “done a nice job putting donors together for her effort,” he said.
As attorney general, Cameron has waged high-profile legal fights in defending the state's strict anti-abortion laws and in challenging pandemic-related restrictions imposed by Beshear, which the governor says saved lives. Quarles, meanwhile, has touted the strength of his grassroots network, especially across rural Kentucky, that stems from his tenure as the state's agriculture commissioner.
Another GOP gubernatorial hopeful, Somerset Mayor Alan Keck, reported raising more than $200,000 by the end of 2022, bolstered by a more than $20,000 personal loan to his campaign. Keck joined the race in late November.