FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Former United Nations ambassador Kelly Craft launched her long-awaited campaign for Kentucky governor Wednesday, saying the state’s “best days are ahead of us” as she joined a crowded field of Republicans vying to challenge next year’s Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear.
Craft has spent years cultivating connections within the GOP as she and her husband, coal magnate Joe Craft, have donated millions of dollars to Republican candidates. Now as she transitions from activist to political candidate, she enters the fray with advantages — the ability to leverage her family’s wealth to finance her campaign and her resume from Republican Donald Trump’s presidency.
Craft touted her Kentucky roots and offered broader themes in her campaign announcement.
“I will run for governor because I know our best days are ahead of us,” Craft said in a news release. “This movement is for all of us who still believe we can lead in education, that government does not have a seat at our kitchen table, and that our children should grow up in safe neighborhoods.”
For more than a year, political insiders from both major parties in Kentucky wondered if, or when, Craft would enter the hotly contested GOP primary for governor. Party votes are in May 2023 and the general election in November 2023.
Trump originally appointed Kraft to serve as the US ambassador to Canada. During her tenure, Kraft played a role in facilitating the US-Mexico-Canada trade deal, Trump’s much-desired renewal of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
In 2019, Trump nominated Kraft to serve as the US ambassador to the United Nations.
But her connections to Trump, who easily carried Kentucky in the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections, were neutralized by his endorsement this year of Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s bid for governor in the Bluegrass State.
Craft was born in Lexington—the state’s second-largest city—and grew up on her family’s farm near Glasgow in south-central Kentucky.
Crafts has been a major donor in support of academic initiatives and institutions in the state, and emphasized her commitment to education in her campaign pitch. He pledged to channel “maximum financial resources” into supporting education, calling it the “most important task” for the government, while warning that it “must be in partnership with parents”.
Kentucky has tilted decidedly GOP in recent years, but Beshear has consistently received strong approval ratings from Kentuckians in polls.
The Democratic governor is expected to highlight his stewardship of the state’s economy by asking voters for a second term. Kentucky has posted records for job creation and investment during his tenure and posted the lowest unemployment rates ever.
Beshear also won bipartisan praise for his administration’s responses to epic natural disasters — tornadoes that hit western Kentucky last December and historic flooding that inundated parts of eastern Kentucky in late July.
In addition to Craft and Cameron, GOP candidates for governor include state Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, state Comptroller Mike Harmon and state Rep. Savannah Maddox.