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Here’s who’s running for Kentucky governor in 2023

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Kentucky Governor's office
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The Kentucky governor's mansion

The deadline has passed for candidates to get into Kentucky’s race for governor this year. Now voters have a clear picture of who’s trying to topple the incumbent, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear.

The list includes 12 Republican candidates, ranging from current statewide officials like Attorney General Daniel Cameron and Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, to former United Nations Ambassador Kelly Craft. A handful of minor candidates have also tossed their hats in the ring, making for a long ballot voters will have to sift through in the primary election on May 16.

On the Democratic side, Beshear drew just two challengers, both of whom have familiar names but have been unsuccessful at the ballot box–perennial candidate Geoff Young, who created controversy last year for defending Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and Peppy Martin, a former Republican nominee who lost the 2001 race for governor against Democrat Paul Patton.

Former Republican Gov. Matt Bevin hinted at a run for governor, and speculation grew to a frenzy shortly before the filing deadline, when he summoned reporters to the Capitol Rotunda for a surprise press conference.

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WFPL
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Divya Karthikeyan
Former Governor arrives at the Capitol after much speculation over a possible run for governor.

Bevin’s performance turned out to be a ruse despite delivering a long, winding speech that touched on policy proposals, highlighted his political achievements and name-dropped would-be Republican primary opponents.

“I want to see this state become the greatest version of itself that it could possibly be. And I look forward to seeing this primary unfold, this next election unfold and the years ahead of us unfold,” Bevin said.

But after the bizarre spectacle, the former governor walked out of the Capitol and drove off in a large van.

Here’s a full list of who’s running for governor this year.

Republican candidates

State Auditor Mike Harmon

Harmon was first elected auditor in 2015, defeating Democratic incumbent Adam Edelen. Harmon is in his second term as state auditor, the office in charge of reviewing accounting and financial performance of government agencies. Before that, he served in the state House of Representatives for 13 years. He was the first to announce his candidacy for governor. He’s raised over $68,000 as per KREF Filings.

Former U.N. Ambassador Kelly Craft

Kelly Craft worked as U.N. Ambassador in former President Donald Trump’s Administration and is the wife of billionaire coal magnate Joe Craft. Craft hasn’t run for elected office before but has been a prolific fundraiser, raising money for GOP Congressman James Comer and former Gov. Matt Bevin’s campaigns. She has a fundraising lead that eclipses her opponents with over $1.2 million in a matter of months, and has spent the most on advertising.

Attorney General Daniel Cameron

Attorney General Daniel Cameron has served as Kentucky’s chief law enforcement officer since 2019. He is the first Black person elected to the position in Kentucky’s history. He clinched an endorsement from former President Trump early on in the campaign. He has been under fire both statewide and nationally for his handling of the investigation into the deadly police raid which led to the death of Breonna Taylor in 2020. He also rallied against Beshear for his policies during the coronavirus pandemic and is defending the state’s near-total ban on abortion in court. He has raised over $950,000 so far for his gubernatorial bid.

Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles 

Quarles is serving his second term as agriculture commissioner and was first elected in 2015. He also served four years in the state House of Representatives. He joined a small business during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 to sue Beshear over restrictions placed on businesses. Quarles has a fundraising lead of over $930,000, only third to Craft.

Somerset Mayor Alan Keck

First elected to his current post in 2018, Keck recently won a second term as Somerset’s mayor. Keck was previously head of Somerset Recycling. He announced the creation of University of Somerset, a planned four-year university that brands itself as an institution free of “indoctrination.”

Eric Deters

Deters is a suspended attorney from northern Kentucky. He’s been vocal about his support for former President Donald Trump and uses the slogan “Make Kentucky Great Again.” He held a “Freedom Fest,” in northern Kentucky last year that gathered thousands of people who incorrectly still believe Trump won the 2020 election. Criminal charges were filed against Deters in October following a run-in with his nephew.

David Cooper 

Cooper is a Kentucky Army National Guard service member according to his campaign website. He lives in Kenton County.

Robert DeVore

DeVore lives in Jefferson County and has previously run for Jefferson county clerk, Congress and the state House of Representatives.

Robbie Smith 

Robbie Smith lives in Madison County and is a high school math teacher according to his campaign website. He has raised $2,000, according to KREF.

Johnny Rice

Johnny Rice is a resident of Harrison County and organized the January 2021 “Patriot Rally” outside of the Kentucky Capitol.

Anthony Moore

Moore resides in Oldham County and hasn’t raised money or campaigned significantly yet.

Democratic candidates

Gov. Andy Beshear 

Beshear is the current governor and has been in office since 2019 after defeating former Gov. Matt Bevin. Beshear’s term so far has been defined by crisis management, from the pandemic, devastating tornadoes last December in western Kentucky, historic flooding in July in eastern Kentucky to economic turmoil that included high inflation. He holds the fundraising lead so far, trumping all Republican primary candidates with $5.2 million.

Geoff Young 

Young recently was the Democratic nominee challenging U.S. Representative Andy Barr for Kentucky’s 6th Congressional District seat. He previously ran for multiple offices, including bids for governor in 2019 and 2015. He has been vocal about his support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Peppy Martin 

Peppy Martin, a former Republican who lost to incumbent Gov. Paul Patton in 1999 amid a series of controversial statements, switched parties and filed to run for Kentucky’s top political post again in 2023. Martin drew fire from Republicans and Democrats alike during her failed gubernatorial bid in 1999.

DROPPED OUT

Savannah Maddox 

First elected to her northern Kentucky district in 2018, Maddox has leaned farther right than many Republicans in the state House of Representatives. In the backdrop of COVID emergency orders in 2020, she gained traction and support from so-called "liberty" conservatives for her stances opposing Beshear's response to the pandemic. Maddox dropped out of the race citing a lack of resources and funding to run a successful campaign in late December 2022.

Divya Karthikeyan is the Capitol reporter for the Kentucky Public Radio Network, a collaborative of stations including WFPL-Louisville, WEKU-Richmond, WKYU-Bowling Green and WKMS-Murray.
Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives for Kentucky Public Radio, a group of public radio stations including WKMS, WFPL in Louisville, WEKU in Richmond and WKYU in Bowling Green. A native of Lexington, Ryland most recently served as the Capitol Reporter for Kentucky Public Radio. He has covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin.
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