Written by Ethan Mort

This November, Kentucky will host one of this year’s three gubernatorial elections. The general has already attracted millions of political ad dollars. Kentucky’s 2019 contest, rated a “tossup” by Cook Political Report, saw $24M spent on political advertising, ranking as the second most expensive 2019 election. Democrat Andy Beshear won the 2019 general election by 5,000 votes, or less than one percent. The next year, Donald Trump won Kentucky by 26% in the Presidential election.  Beshear is now seeking re-election against Republican nominee, former Kentucky Attorney General, Daniel Cameron.  The general election has already seen $11.1M in ad reservations. By this point in 2019, the election had only seen $1.7M. The 2023 Kentucky gubernatorial general election is currently this year’s sixth most expensive election. With over three months until election day, the Bluegrass State will surely see millions more in ad reservations.

A area chart showing 2023's Kentucky gubernatorial general out pacing 2019's

Last May, Cameron won the Republican primary, setting up a November matchup against Beshear. While Beshear coasted to victory in the Democratic primary, the Republican primary was significantly more competitive. Republican advertisers spent $14.3M on the primary, making up 98% of total primary election spending. The 2023 primary’s ad expenditure outpaced that of 2019 by $7.6M. The biggest spender in the 2023 primary was Kelly Craft (R), who spent $6.7M. She came third in the Republican primary. Cameron, meanwhile, spent $1.1M. For AdImpact’s Kentucky Governor primary analysis, see our blog from May.

A pie chart showing Kentucky governor primary spending by team

Beshear enters the general election as the country’s most popular Democratic governor and the fifth most popular governor overall.  Thus far, Democrats have spent $7.6M in the election versus Republicans’ $3.3M. This is in stark difference from the 2019 general to this point, where Republicans spent $1.7M to Democrats’ $60K. Beshear’s campaign is the top spending advertiser in the election with $4.6M spent. His ads have focused on his accomplishments as governor, and he has tried to tout his bipartisan appeal. His most recent ad features a Republican voter proclaiming that while he didn’t vote for Beshear in 2019, he will this year. This ad mimics an ad he released in 2019 in which Trump supporters declared their support for Beshear. The incumbent governor has received support from the Democratic group Defending Bluegrass Values.  Thus far, the group has spent $2.8M on ads attacking Cameron’s tenure as Attorney General. While Daniel Cameron hasn’t launched any general election ads on traditional media yet, Republican groups Kentucky Values and State Solutions Inc. have spent a combined total of $3.3M in attack ads against Beshear. Kentucky Values’ ads additionally link Beshear to President Biden and national social issues. So far, the top issues discussed in the general election ads have been crime, the economy, and LGBTQ rights. 

In the 2019 gubernatorial general between incumbent Republican Matt Bevin and Beshear, the top issues were Donald Trump, Healthcare, and Education. A majority of the airings that mentioned Trump came from Republican advertisers linking Bevin with Trump while linking Beshear with Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Hillary Clinton. The second top issue for Republicans was illegal immigration. Alternatively, the top issues for Democrats were education, healthcare and accusing Bevin of corruption.  In terms of spending for the election, Bevin and Beshear were neck and neck, with both candidates spending $4M. However, Republican issue groups outspent Democratic issue groups $9.4M to $6.4M. Putting Republican group Kentucky First was the top spending advertiser in the election, spending a total of $9M, $3M more than the second highest spending advertiser, Bluegrass Values (D). 

A bar chart comparing Kentucky gubernatorial general spending across 2019 and 2023

By year’s end, the Kentucky gubernatorial general election will likely be one of 2023’s most expensive around the country. The election has already reached 46% of 2019’s total expenditure. With more than three months until voters head to the polls, it is possible that this year’s election will ultimately outpace 2019. AdImpact will continue to track political ad spending in the final months of this race.

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