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And then there were two. Quarles makes GOP gubernatorial primary run official.

Quarles
Timothy D. Easley/AP
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FR43398 AP
Kentucky Agricultural Commissioner Ryan Quarles addresses the audience at the Kentucky Farm Bureau Ham Breakfast at the Kentucky State Fair in Louisville, Ky., Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

As anticipated, Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles is joining the race to challenge incumbent Andy Beshear — as a recent poll buoys Democrats' hopes of holding on to the top office.

Quarles, who is serving his second term as state agriculture commissioner, announced over the weekend that he’s in the running for the top job in 2023. He told WKYT's Newsmakers that Gov. Andy Beshear will face hurdles in a reliably red state.

"Beshear is vulnerable for reelection and I think it's all about making sure that we mobilize the voters and give them a choice on election day," he said.

In a statement Monday, the commissioner added, "After a period of unprecedented political division in Frankfort, I want to unite Kentucky. I look forward to bringing my message of a shared vision of economic growth, investment in infrastructure and education, and less government intrusion in our lives, jobs, and schools to voters across the state over the coming months."

In response, Kentucky Democratic Party Chair Colmon Elridge highlighted a recent Morning Consult poll that ranked Beshear as the most popular Democratic governor in the country. He cited billions in economic development announcements, noting that Beshear has led with a “deep sense of compassion.”

Elridge went on to attack Quarles’ time in office, accusing him of "self-enrichment" and "political grandstanding."

Most notably, Quarles has been at odds with Beshear over his pandemic policies, pressing for earlier reopening dates and more public input in the process.

Quarles joins fellow Republican state auditor Mike Harmon, who announced he’s running for governor last July. Several other Republicans are expected to enter the race.