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Kelly Craft: Big-Spending Campaign for Governor Focuses on Woke School, Drugs Coal

May 8, 2023Kelly Craft is running for governor, but if you watch television you probably already knew that. The campaign has blitzed the airwaves longer and more often than any other candidate for governor in what’s proven to be the most expensive gubernatorial primary in state history.

Craft’s political strategy is to dominate the airwaves, stake out important issues in advertising, bring down presumed frontrunner Attorney General Daniel Cameron and meet voters in intimate settings across the state. At every stop, the former U.S. ambassador to Canada and the United Nations emphasizes one-on-one time with voters and makes a point to thank any staff present at an establishment. She’s also set herself apart as one of the few candidates to have declared a running mate in Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, a prominent state legislator and close ally of U.S. Congressman Jamie Comer, KY-01.

On the issues, she’s run a campaign particularly emphasizing alleged “wokeness” in schools, the drug epidemic and Kentucky’s coal economy.

Craft has conducted a “kitchen table” tour across the state in the months leading up to her campaign, bringing along conservative star supporters like Comer and former University of Kentucky swimmer Riley Gaines.

With relatively low name I.D. heading into the race — she was appointed to her posts and has never run for office in Kentucky — Craft introduced herself to voters as a down-to-earth Kentuckian from rural Barren County, in the South-Central region of the state. Craft has largely self-funded her campaign, giving it more than $9 million from her own pocketbook. A political action committee (PAC) supporting her was mostly bankrolled by her husband, billionaire coal entrepreneur and philanthropist Joe Craft.

Kelly Craft on the Issues

  • Education: Craft has centered her education message around issues with perceived “wokeness” in school and Critical Race Theory, which she says is a major distraction from teaching the fundamentals of reading and math. She told the Herald-Leader that parents across Kentucky have emphasized the issue to her. “There’s a real concern over the quality of education, the fear of their children being exposed to an education based upon their woke left ideologies, as opposed to common sense values,” Craft said.

  • Economy: Craft echoed the concerns of other Republicans in Kentucky about the state’s workforce participation rate, which ranks seventh-lowest in the country. She said she wanted to emphasize getting more Kentuckians engaged in the workforce. She said that focusing on a practical education — including lifting up the trades — will help the state improve on those metrics. In an advertisement, Craft touted her experience on economic issues as ambassador to Canada and the United Nations. She hypes her work with Trump to “rip up” the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and establish the United States-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) agreement, which largely updated the existing agreement. Among significant changes in the USMCA were increasing incentives for North American automobile production and furthering U.S. access to Canadian dairy markets.

  • Coal: Craft’s campaign has hammered Attorney General Daniel Cameron for his support in allowing a coal-fired power plant in West Virginia, which provided power to many thousands of Eastern Kentuckians, to retire. Cameron’s office made the decision because keeping it alive would have required a rate increase and the plant did not employ Kentuckians. Craft’s husband Joe is a prominent billionaire philanthropist who made his fortune from the coal industry. When asked if she sees a potential conflict between the source of her family’s wealth and political advocacy for reliance on coal, Craft said that coal mining is “a passion for us” and pointed to the family’s recent $4 million gift to help build 57 homes in flood-ravaged Eastern Kentucky. “We live by ‘to whom much is given, much is expected,’ and we have signed a pledge to give away half of our net worth,” Craft said. “... To say that this is a personal financial gain, now that’s laughable, and I would like for you to interview anybody who’s been the recipient of our generosity because I don’t think they think that’s laughable.”

  • LGBTQ issues, Craft has given her full support to Senate Bill 150, which was sponsored by her lieutenant governor running mate Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville. The bill bans gender transitioning, also known as gender-affirming, healthcare for minors and created new restrictions on teaching LGBTQ content in K-12 schools, among other things.

  • Abortion, Craft has said that she is in support of adding exceptions for rape and incest to Kentucky’s trigger ban on abortion but has not proposed any further changes to that law.

Who is Supporting Craft’s Bid?

The top giver to the Kelly Craft campaign is the candidate herself. She’s loaned her campaign more than $9.2 million. However, before the first finance report of this year, Craft had received donations from Kentuckians at a higher rate than anyone else in the race. A political fundraiser dating back to at least former president George W. Bush’s 2004 campaign, Craft has connections across the state.

Craft also has some supporters in elected office, including one member of GOP leadership in House Majority Whip Jason Nemes, R-Louisville. The candidate has also hosted fundraisers with several individuals worth vast amounts of money, including local high-dollar donors as well as several from across the country.

A PAC cropped up in recent months backing Craft’s candidacy. In April, a finance report revealed that Joe Craft was the primary funder of the PAC, along with others in the coal industry. The report prompted questions from the state campaign finance agency, as state law bars PACs and campaigns from coordinating with eachother.

Among Craft’s campaign donors in the latest report were notable rival of U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, Sen. Rick Scott and prominent horse industry power player Bill Carstanjen, among many others.

What Craft’s Opponents are Saying:

Craft has mostly faced fire from Cameron’s campaign and a PAC supporting his candidacy. That PAC, Bluegrass Freedom Action, sent out a text criticizing Craft’s “ultra-rich” background and has released an ad bashing Craft for not getting Trump’s endorsement and for controversy surrounding her “empty chair” ad.

At a campaign event, Cameron said Craft “spent 6 months before she jumped in the race telling people she was going to get the Trump endorsement… I got the Trump endorsement and she’s been in freefall ever since.”

Why Craft Says She’s the Best to Take on Beshear:

When asked why she’s the best to beat Beshear, Craft emphasized her work ethic.

“My work ethic I learned very early on as a child watching my mom and dad... that’s why I’m certain (I’ll beat Beshear). Then also the work ethic I displayed in working to elect president Trump. That work ethic is the reason he appointed me to be ambassador to the U.N., to Canada,” Craft said.

She also highlighted the fact that she’s made a bigger deal out of issues like the U.S.-Mexico border and the drug epidemic than Beshear.