FRANKFURT, Ky. — Former United Nations Ambassador Kelly Craft kicked off her long-awaited campaign for Kentucky governorship on Wednesday, saying the state’s “best days are ahead of us” as she joined a host of Republicans competing for challenge Democratic Governor Andy Beshear next year.
Craft spent years cultivating relationships within the GOP as she and her husband, coal tycoon Joe Craft, donated millions of dollars to Republican candidates. Now that she’s transitioning from party activist to political candidate, she’s entering the fray with perks — the ability to tap into her family’s wealth to fund her campaign and her resume from Republican Donald Trump’s presidency.
Craft touted his Kentucky roots and offered big themes in his campaign ad.
“I’m running for governor because I know our best days are ahead of us,” Craft said in a press release. “This movement is for all of us who still believe that we can lead in education, that the government has a seat at our kitchen table, and that our children should grow up in safe neighborhoods.
For more than a year, political insiders from Kentucky’s two major parties have debated if, or when, Craft would enter the hotly contested GOP primary for governor. Party votes are in May 2023 and general elections are in November 2023.
Trump first appointed Craft as U.S. Ambassador to Canada. During his tenure, Craft played a role in facilitating the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal, Trump’s long-awaited overhaul of the North American Free Trade Agreement. The updated trade deal has benefited workers, farmers and businesses in Kentucky and across the country, Craft’s campaign statement said Wednesday.
In 2019, Trump appointed Craft as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.
But his relationship with Trump, who easily carried Kentucky to the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections, was neutralized by his endorsement this year of Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s candidacy for governor of the Bluegrass State.
Craft was born in Lexington — the state’s second-largest city — and grew up on the family farm near Glasgow in south-central Kentucky.
The Crafts have been major donors in support of statewide initiatives and academic institutions, and she has highlighted her commitment to education in her campaign rollout. She pledged to allocate “maximum financial resources” to support education, calling it the government’s “most important duty”, while warning that it “must be in partnership with parents”.
Kentucky has leaned heavily toward the GOP in recent years, but Beshear has consistently received strong approval ratings from Kentuckians in the polls.
The Democratic governor is expected to highlight his handling of the state’s economy by canvassing voters for a second term. Kentucky posted record job creation and investment during his tenure and recorded its lowest unemployment rates on record.
Beshear has also received bipartisan praise for his administration’s responses to epic natural disasters — from the tornadoes that tore through western Kentucky last December and the historic floods that inundated parts of eastern Kentucky in late July.
Besides Craft and Cameron, GOP candidates for governor include state agriculture commissioner Ryan Quarles, state auditor Mike Harmon and state representative Savannah Maddox.