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Former U.N. Ambassador Kelly Craft joins crowded GOP race for Kentucky governor

Photos Andre Forget / OLO

After more than a year of public speculation, former United Nations Ambassador Kelly Craft launched a campaign Wednesday to be Kentucky’s next governor.

She’s joining a crowded race of Republicans vying for the chance to unseat incumbent Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear in 2023.

Craft has been a prolific Republican fundraiser for years and worked in President Donald Trump’s administration, first as the ambassador to Canada, and later as the U.S. ambassador to the U.N.

In a campaign video released Wednesday morning, Craft identified broad issues that she’s running for.

“This campaign isn’t about me. It’s about all of us who still believe. Believe we can lead in education, teaching kids how to think, not what to think. Believe that hard work matters and government shouldn’t get in the way of our success. I believe that here in Kentucky, our best days are ahead of us,” she said.

A native of Glasgow in southern Kentucky, Craft heads a business advisory and marketing firm in Lexington. She is married to billionaire Joe Craft, the CEO of Alliance Coal, the second largest coal producer in the eastern U.S.

Together, the Crafts have pumped millions of dollars into local and national Republican campaigns over recent decades.

Even though there’s more than a year until the election, Craft is jumping into a race that already features several prominent Republicans, including Attorney General Daniel Cameron, Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, state Rep. Savannah Maddox and State Auditor Mike Harmon.

Craft is certain to promote her connections to Trump, who easily carried Kentucky in the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections. She helped host a fundraiser for the former president at the Kentucky Derby this year. But Trump already issued an early endorsement for Cameron’s bid in June.

Former Republican Gov. Matt Bevin is also rumored to be considering a run after closely losing reelection in 2019 to Beshear.

Republicans believe they have a good chance to unseat Beshear, who won his first term by only about 5,000 votes in a state that has skewed increasingly Republican. But polls have consistently shown Beshear with high job approval ratings.

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Ryland is the state capitol reporter for Kentucky Public Radio. He's covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin. Always looking to put a face to big issues,Ryland'sreporting has taken him to drought-weary towns in West Texas and relocated communities in rural China. He's covered breaking news like the 2014 shooting at Fort Hood Army Base and the aftermath of the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas.
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