Adam Edelen is returning to Kentucky politics, filing paperwork Thursday to begin a campaign for governor three years after he was defeated for re-election as state auditor.
Edelen sent a letter to the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance announcing that he intends to raise and spend money as a Democratic candidate for governor. Thursday's filing does not put him on the ballot for the May primary, but it is a strong indication he will run for governor. Edelen did not return a phone call seeking comment, but he plans to make a formal announcement next week.
Kentucky is one of three states that will elect governors in 2019, along with Louisiana and Mississippi. Republican Gov. Matt Bevin has said he will run for re-election this year, but he has yet to file for the office or begin to raise money. Bevin's approval ratings have plummeted after he criticized public workers who opposed his efforts to change the state's struggling public pension plans. Two other Democrats have already launched campaigns to oppose Bevin, including Attorney General Andy Beshear and state House Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins.
Edelen was chief of staff to Andy Beshear's father, former Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear, during his first term in office. He was elected state auditor in 2011, where his reports revealed troubles for the state's rural hospitals, overstated Medicaid expenses and a backlog of more than 3,000 untested rape kits at law enforcement agencies across the state.
Edelen was part of a trio of young Democrats, along with then Attorney General Jack Conway and Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who were heralded as the party's future. But since then, Grimes lost to Mitch McConnell in the 2014 U.S. Senate race, Conway lost to Bevin in the 2015 governor's race and Edelen lost to Republican Mike Harmon in his 2015 re-election bid. That loss derailed any chance Edelen had of challenging U.S. Sen. Rand Paul in 2016.
"I don't think it makes a difference that Edelen fell short on his last statewide campaign," said Stephen Voss, a political science professor at the University of Kentucky. "Voters rarely worry about campaign success rates or win loss records."
Since then, Edelen has stayed engaged on state issues, founding the advocacy group New Kentucky Project along with sports radio host Matt Jones. He attended the annual Fancy Farm Picnic in western Kentucky last year, where he urged Democratic candidates to make health care a central issue. And he has stayed active on social media, where in December he called Bevin "the most inept governor in modern KY history" after the GOP-controlled legislature declined to pass a pension law Bevin had signed that had been struck down by the state Supreme Court on procedural grounds.
Edelen's running mate is Gill Holland, a developer and businessman who narrowly lost a close race for the Louisville Metro Council in 2016. Holland could help Edelen with fundraising, which will be critical in a crowded primary field. Andy Beshear has been officially running for governor since July and has already raised nearly $700,000. Adkins has not had to file a campaign finance report yet. He announced his candidacy in his native eastern Kentucky in November at an event attended by hundreds of people.
This will be the first heavily contested Democratic primary for governor since 2007.
"Conventional wisdom is that a sharply contested primary hurts the winner ... but the research evidence doesn't back that up at all," Voss said. "If anything, a hard-fought primary can help the party by getting their party members involved in the election earlier."