The ads are coming.
Five months out from the hotly-contested 2023 governor’s race, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft became the first of several 2023 candidates for governor of Kentucky to launch a television ad blitz. Craft’s campaign spent well over $100,000, with $62,000 going toward ads that will play during University of Kentucky games – when the men’s basketball team plays the University of Louisville and when the football team plays in the Music City Bowl – on a week of television from Dec. 27 to Jan. 3.
That marks the first major advertising buy in a crowded Republican field of six who have either secured a significant amount of campaign donations or are running professional campaigns. Craft raised an impressive amount of cash in less than a month on the trail, nearly $752,000 as of early October. Given Craft’s vast personal wealth, due to her marriage to billionaire coal magnate and philanthropist Joe Craft, she is very likely to have the monetary edge over her Republican primary opponents.
Though Craft is something of a political greenhorn, fundraising is not new territory for her. Craft served as a “bundler” in 2004 for former President George W. Bush, and in 2012, she and Joe Craft were the state co-chairs for the Mitt Romney presidential campaign. Joe Craft was a multi-million dollar donor to former president Donald Trump’s inaugural committee.
The pair are also prominent donors to University of Kentucky athletic programs, making frequent appearances with members of the football and basketball teams. Multiple training facilities for university athletics facilities bear Joe Craft’s name. On the day of Craft’s September announcement for governor, two prominent UK football coaches re-posted Craft’s announcement video on their Twitter accounts. Later that day, an athletics official texted senior department staff asking them to remind coaches and other staff of university policy barring employees from engaging in political activities.
Other candidates for governor who are running professional campaigns include Attorney General Daniel Cameron, Commissioner of Agriculture Ryan Quarles, Somerset Mayor Alan Keck, Auditor Mike Harmon and retired Northern Kentucky attorney Eric Deters. Even more than that have filed for the office.
Rep. Savannah Maddox, R-Dry Ridge, dropped out of the race in a surprise announcement last week. Former governor Matt Bevin, who was unpopular during his tenure and narrowly lost a reelection bid to Beshear, has been rumored to be considering another run for the office.
There was talk among the Republican-dominated state legislature of adding a runoff rule to the primary. Such a rule would have added a second election pitting only the top two vote getters would take place if no candidate clears 40% in the initial vote, but of late legislators say they won’t change the rules with the Jan. 3 General Assembly and Jan. 6 filing deadlines looming so close.
What’s in the ad & how much did it cost?
Craft’s ad, which will introduce her as a candidate to many Kenutckians, focuses on what her father meant to her. Bobby Guilfoil was a veterinarian in Barren County.
“When I was a little girl, growing up on a farm in Barren County, I really thought my daddy made the sun rise,” Craft says in the ad’s opening.
The ad is largely cut down from a lengthier digital ad focusing on the “promise” that Craft said her father’s life was built around: the promise that, in Kentucky, anything was possible if one lived by faith, worked hard and treated others with respect. The ad paints Craft as an underestimated overachiever with humble beginnings.
“People said I was just some small town girl, but my dad showed me that it’s where I’m from that got me to where I am today,” Craft says.
Aside from being a veterinarian, Guilfoil was also deeply involved in local politics as a Democrat. He was recognized as the Barren County Democrat of the Year by the local party and served as the county Democratic party chair in 2000. An Instagram post from his granddaughter, one of Craft’s daughters, described Guilfoil and his wife as “diehard Democrats” who kept a life-size cutout of former president Barack Obama in their house.
The Craft campaign spent $114,305 total on network TV ads in Lexington, Louisville and Bowling Green markets. A campaign spokesperson said that it also spent money to air the ad on cable TV, but did not say how much.
Craft has been criticized by Maddox as well as Deters for being “out of touch” with everyday Kentuckians due to her immense wealth.
Thus far, every GOP gubernatorial candidate has released a digital ad, but Craft’s $100,000-plus spending blitz makes her the first to hit the TV airwaves. Beshear, whose position gives him significant media exposure as-is and is not expected to face a significant primary challenge, has kept his powder dry so far. Still, the incumbent governor has raised more than $4.5 million thus far, easily outpacing his Republican counterparts.
The 2023 election – in both the Republican primary and the general election, where the GOP winner is all but ensured to face Beshear – is expected to garner significant national attention. The national outlet Politico, in its early evaluation of 2023 races, cited Kentucky’s top official race as the most active 2023 gubernatorial race in the nation thus far.
The big buy this winter is not the first advertising expense of Craft’s. Her campaign spent around $600 on radio advertising on the same day as her September campaign kickoff event in Glasgow.
As of now, relatively little is known about Craft’s policy platform. Craft herself has yet to participate in interviews with state media outlets, though every candidate running a professional campaign for governor has done so.