Ag Commissioner Ryan Quarles enters 2023 Ky. governor’s race

Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture Ryan Quarles is looking for a promotion.

Quarles announced Saturday night at the Fayette County Republican Reagan Dinner that he is running for governor in 2023.

The 38-year-old, who has a law degree and a doctorate in higher education, has served as Kentucky’s Commissioner of Agriculture since 2015. He was re-elected in 2019, winning by nearly 20 percentage points.

In an interview with WKYT’s Bill Bryant officially announcing his candidacy for the state’s top post, Quarles said he hopes to “unite” Kentucky with a 2023 primary and general election win.

“I feel like I have a strong track record of executive leadership and I also feel a calling right now that I can provide Kentucky, if voters would like, with more public service and leadership… (Kentuckians) deserve a governor that’s going to bring us all together and unite Kentucky.”

Quarles said the recent rule change eliminating the requirement for candidates to have to name their lieutenant governor the day they file will likely encourage more people to run.

“It may be a more crowded primary field, but that’s okay. The way I view it is that we’re not going to be running against each other, we’re going to be applying for the same job,” Quarles said on Saturday. “Iron sharpens iron with regards to developing the best nominee possible to go up against Andy Beshear.”

Other state Republicans that have not denied interest in running for the position include former United States Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft, Attorney General Daniel Cameron, Sen. Ralph Alvarado, Secretary of State Michael Adams, U.S. Rep. James Comer, state Rep. Savannah Maddox, state Sen. Max Wise and Somerset Mayor Alan Keck, among others.

“As the Republican party grows, we have to get more used to having primaries,” Quarles said, emphasizing that the state will likely become majority Republican by the 2023 general election date.

Despite Republicans holding massive majorities in both chambers of the state legislature, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear is still popular in Kentucky. According to two recent polls from the Morning Consult and Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy, Beshear’s job approval rating is hovering near 60%.

Beshear, who narrowly defeated former governor Matt Bevin, has also collected nearly $2.4 million in campaign contributions half a year into his reelection bid.

However, Quarles said he thought Beshear was “vulnerable.”

“I think that Andy Beshear is vulnerable for reelection. It’s all about making sure that we mobilize the voters and give them a choice on election day,” Quarles said.

Thus far, Auditor Mike Harmon and Northern Kentucky candidate Eric Deters have been the only Republican candidates to raise significant amounts of money for their gubernatorial efforts.

Also filing intent to run as Republicans are David Cooper of Kenton County, Johnny Rice of Harrison County, Robbie Smith of Madison County and Anthony Moore of Oldham County. Brian Bush of Johnson County and Rev. Clint Johnson of Laurel County have also filed intent to run as neither Democrats nor Republicans.