Twice as many candidates have already filed as the number of contenders in the most congested Kentucky GOP gubernatorial primary in party history

After losing a net two gubernatorial seats in the 2022 midterms, Republicans are optimistic about their chances of gaining two back next year when term-limited Democrat John Bel Edwards’ seat opens up in Louisiana and Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear awaits the winner of what will likely be a record number of GOP hopefuls in the deep red state.

A dozen Republicans in Kentucky have already filed in advance of the January 6th deadline for the May 16th primary.

High profile candidates in the race include three sitting state executive officers – Auditor Mike Harmon, Attorney General Daniel Cameron, and Commissioner of Agriculture Ryan Quarles – who each won their respective races by double-digit margins in 2019.

Other notables are former Ambassador to the United Nations and Canada Kelly Craft, state Representative Savannah Maddox, and Somerset Mayor Alan Keck.

Even if a handful of candidates drop out of the running for the Republican nomination, the GOP primary will still have a record number of contenders on the ballot next May.

Of the 25 primaries for the office conducted since Kentucky’s primary law was first passed in 1912, in only one cycle have more than four Republicans participated in the primary.

[Note: After the enactment of the 1912 primary law two primary elections were held in 1915 and 1919. However, 1920 legislation made the primary optional for state offices. The GOP selected their nominees via convention in 1923 (former Attorney General Charles Dawson) and 1931 (Louisville Mayor William Harrison) and via primary in 1927 (Judge Flem Sampson). The direct primary law was passed again in 1935].

The current record of six GOP gubernatorial candidates in a primary took place in 1983 when State Senator and former baseball star Jim Bunning recorded nearly three-quarters of the vote against five lesser-known hopefuls.

Four Republicans sought their party’s nomination in nine other cycles: 1939, 1971, 1975, 1979, 1987, 1995, 2003, 2015, and 2019.

With less than three weeks before the filing deadline, one lingering question is whether former Governor Matt Bevin will jump into the race and seek a rematch against Beshear. [And, if so, how much of the field will drop out if he does].

Bevin’s initial nomination victory in 2015 was notable for being the most narrowly decided gubernatorial primary in Kentucky history, beating Agriculture Commissioner James Comer by 0.04 points, or 83 votes.

Bevin was also nominated that cycle with a party-low 32.9 percent – one of three Republican primaries for governor in which the nominee did not receive a majority of the vote (along with State Representative John Harper in 1987 (41.4 percent) and State Senator David Williams in 2011 (48.2 percent)).

The record number of gubernatorial primary candidates in the state by either party is 10 – set in 1967 when former Highway Commissioner Henry Ward defeated former Governor Happy Chandler, Lieutenant Governor Harry Waterfield, and seven other Democratic candidates.

While Governor Beshear won’t have a clear path to the Democratic nomination in 2023, he is unlikely to have a close contest from his challengers Peppy Martin (the 1999 Republican nominee for the office) and 2015 and 2019 candidate Geoff Young.

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  1. Connor Cobb on December 20, 2022 at 2:32 pm

    Mike Braun is apparently running for IN gov. How often do sitting senators run for gov. of any state? The last I can recall is Sam Brownback of KS back in 2010.

  2. Flickertail-Pembina on December 20, 2022 at 10:23 pm

    “…ambassador to the United Nations and (TO) Canada…” Kelly Dawn Guilfoil Craft served in the former from 09 of 2019 until the end of the presidency of “45”, and the latter from 10 of 2017 until 08 of 2019 (at least a few readers could mistakenly think she served in both at the same time!). Despite such sterling resume – and connections to the coal industry through her current spouse, Joseph Craft III – methinks one of the constitutional officers will win the primary election.

    John Neely Kennedy is expected to decide on a bid for governor of LA early next year (though he was re-elected less than two months ago). As well, a possible return match might occur if “Joe” Donnelly (lost his Senate seat to Michael Kent Braun in 2018 election; currently ambassador to the Holy See) returns home and makes a bid for governor. How often do US senators – current or former – end up as opponents for gubernatorial primary or general elections??

    • John Chessant on January 2, 2023 at 7:54 pm

      Unfortunately for Craft and Donnelly (if he decides to run), the track record of gubernatorial campaigns by former U.S. ambassadors has not been promising. While there are plenty of governors who later went on to win appointment to an ambassadorship [such as John Davis Lodge, Adlai Stevenson II, William Scranton, Patrick Lucey, Richard Kneip, Ray Mabus, Madeleine Kunin, Dick Celeste, Paul Cellucci, Gary Locke, Nikki Haley, Terry Branstad, Sam Brownback, Jim Gilmore, and Jack Markell], the reverse path is not nearly as well-trodden.

      The three recent successful cases:

      *Bill Richardson (United Nations, 1997-98) served as governor of New Mexico from 2003 to 2011.
      *Jon Huntsman, Jr. (Singapore, 1992-93) served as governor of Utah from 2005 to 2009, but after adding China (2009-11) and Russia (2017-19) to his résumé, he ran again for governor in 2020 and narrowly lost the GOP primary to Spencer Cox.
      *Phil Murphy (Germany, 2009-13) is the current governor of New Jersey, elected in 2017 and re-elected in 2021.

      One former ambassador currently serves as lieutenant governor: Eleni Kounalakis (Hungary, 2010-13) was elected lieutenant governor of California in 2018 and re-elected in 2022.

      Other examples that come to mind:

      *W. Averell Harriman (Soviet Union, 1943-46; United Kingdom, 1946) served as governor of New York for one term from 1955 to 1958, losing his re-election bid to Nelson Rockefeller.
      *Raúl Héctor Castro (El Salvador, 1964-68; Bolivia, 1968-69) was the losing Democratic nominee for governor of Arizona in 1970, but came back to win in 1974. He served as governor until 1977, when he resigned to become ambassador to Argentina.

      A (probably incomplete) list of recent losing candidates:

      *Arthur Goldberg (United Nations, 1965-68) was the Democratic nominee for governor of New York in 1970, losing to incumbent Nelson Rockefeller.
      *Andrew Young (United Nations, 1977-79) served as mayor of Atlanta from 1982 to 1990 and ran for governor of Georgia in 1990, losing the Democratic primary runoff to Zell Miller.
      *Evan G. Galbraith (France, 1981-85) ran for governor of New York in 1994, but failed to win enough support at the GOP state convention to secure a spot on the primary ballot.
      *Brian J. Donnelly (Trinidad and Tobago, 1994-97) ran for governor of Massachusetts in 1998, placing third in the Democratic primary.
      *James Blanchard (Canada, 1993-96) previously served as governor of Michigan from 1983 to 1991, but when he ran again for governor in 2002 he placed third in the Democratic primary.
      *Tom Schieffer (Australia, 2001-05; Japan, 2005-09) ran for governor of Texas in 2010 as a Democrat, but withdrew before the primary.
      *Thomas C. Foley (Ireland, 2006-09) was the GOP nominee for governor of Connecticut in 2010 and 2014, narrowly losing the general election to Dannel Malloy both times.
      *Peter Galbraith (Croatia, 1993-98) served as a Vermont state senator from 2011 to 2015 and ran for governor of Vermont in 2016, placing third in the Democratic primary.
      *Lynda Blanchard (Slovenia, 2019-21) ran for governor of Alabama in 2022, placing second in a crowded GOP primary but far behind Kay Ivey, the incumbent governor.

      Ambassadors have had slightly more success running for Congress, where their experience has more direct relevance. Some notable ones include Chester B. Bowles, John Sherman Cooper, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Dan Coats, and Francis Rooney. [A notable losing nominee is Alan Blinken, uncle of current U.S. secretary of state Antony Blinken.] Currently there are three members of Congress who have previously served as an ambassador:
      *Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.) served as ambassador to Japan from 2017 to 2019
      *Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.) served as ambassador to Luxembourg from 2005 to 2009
      *Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) served as ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein from 2009 to 2013 [he was the losing nominee for governor of Virginia in 1997, before his ambassadorship]

      • John Chessant on January 7, 2023 at 11:54 pm

        *George Howard Earle III (Austria, 1933-34) served as governor of Pennsylvania from 1935 to 1939. He was the Democratic nominee for U.S. senator in 1938, before serving as ambassador to Bulgaria in 1940.
        *Frank Murphy (Philippines, 1935-36 — as high commissioner, a title which carried essentially the same duties as an ambassador during the transition period to independence) served as governor of Michigan from 1937 to 1939. He then served as U.S. attorney-general and on the U.S. Supreme Court.
        *Robert F. Wagner, Jr. (Spain, 1968-69) previously served as mayor of New York City from 1954 to 1965, but when he ran again for mayor in 1969 he narrowly lost the Democratic primary to Mario Procaccino.
        *William C. Battle (Australia, 1962-64) [son of former Gov. John S. Battle] was the Democratic nominee for governor of Virginia in 1969, losing to Linwood Holton.
        *Ogden Reid (Israel, 1959-61) [grandson of 1892 GOP vice-presidential nominee Whitelaw Reid] served in the U.S. House from 1963 to 1975. He ran for governor of New York in 1974, but withdrew before the primary. He was also the Democratic nominee for Westchester County executive in a 1983 special election.
        *Ronald Lauder (Austria, 1986-87) [heir to the Estée Lauder fortune] ran for mayor of New York City in 1989, losing the Republican primary to Rudy Giuliani.

        Also, Jeff Bleich (Australia, 2009-13) was a candidate in the 2018 election for lieutenant governor of California won by Eleni Kounalakis (Hungary, 2010-13).

        And while I’m here, the two most recent former U.S. ambassadors to Denmark were later unsuccessful candidates for Congress.
        *Rufus Gifford (Denmark, 2013-17) ran for U.S. House from Massachusetts’s 3rd district in 2018, placing fifth in the Democratic primary.
        *Carla Sands (Denmark, 2017-21) ran for U.S. senator from Pennsylvania in 2022, placing fourth in the GOP primary.

  3. Flickertail-Pembina on December 30, 2022 at 9:29 pm

    On to 2023…

    * 3 of January: floor election of US House speaker – my surmise is that no one will be chosen on the FIRST BALLOT, something that has not happened in, well, quite a long time;

    * 10 of January: special election for the 7th District of the “Senate of Virginia” – if the Democrats manage to seize it from the Republicans their chances of retaining control of the chamber in the standing elections in November would be somewhat augmented;

    * 4 of April: election for the seat in WI Supreme Court being vacated by “Pat” Roggensack – if the left-leaning (and de-facto Democratic) judicial contender is elected, the body will have no longer have a rightist majority, one that has allegedly acted as ‘the third branch’, often rubber-stamping the acts of the overwhelmingly Republican Assembly and Senate;

    As the Associated Press has noted, the year will be dominated by municipal elections along with state elections in a handful of Southern states (e.g. mayor of Chicago, governor/lieutenant governor of Kentucky), though the machinations in Washington will be prominent as well, despite the fact that no standing elections will be held.

    Godt nytt år !

    • John Chessant on January 2, 2023 at 8:23 pm

      Definitely worth a mention is what is likely to be one of the strangest political stories of 2023.

      February 7 (or possibly as late as May 16, depending on court challenges): special elections in three districts for the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. The new legislative session will begin tomorrow (January 3) with — according to Democrats — a 102–101 Democratic majority because they won 102 seats to the Republicans’ 101 seats in the November election, but — according to Republicans — a 101–99 Republican majority because those are the actual numbers of members that will be seated tomorrow.

      *In the 32nd district, Tony DeLuca was re-elected posthumously after his death in October 2022; he died too close to election day for his name to be replaced on the ballot.
      *In the 34th district, Summer Lee was re-elected and also elected to the U.S. House, so she resigned on December 7.
      *In the 35th district, Austin Davis was re-elected and also elected as lieutenant governor, so he resigned on December 7.

      A dispute between the caucus leaders of both parties over the scheduling of the three special elections is ongoing. Since Democrats are heavily favored in all three districts, Democrats are calling for the elections to be held quickly, whereas Republicans hope to prolong their current “majority” as long as possible.

      The timing is consequential, since under state rules, various constitutional amendments supported by Republicans would be put to voters if the GOP manages to pass them through both chambers of the state legislature this session (even without the approval of incoming Democratic governor Josh Shapiro).

  4. Connor Cobb on January 4, 2023 at 10:57 am

    1960, 1990 and 2004, 1 senator lost reelection all 3 years. Interestingly, no senators lost in the general election in 1914, 2 did lose in the primary through. 2022 is the 1st time ever that no senator lost in the primary or general election.
    I just never thought I’d see that day.

  5. […] Andy Beshear’s (pictured) popularity will carry him against whichever candidate emerges from the record Republican primary field, despite the state taking a strong turn toward the GOP over the last two […]

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