Quarles avoids rivals' spats in debut ad in governor's race
Playing up his Kentucky roots and steering clear, at least for now, from an increasingly combative competition between two rivals, Republican gubernatorial candidate Ryan Quarles unveiled his first TV ad of the campaign Wednesday after months of being overshadowed on the airwaves.
Quarles' debut ad comes less than three weeks before the May 16 primary, amid signs that a considerable number of GOP voters remain undecided. In opting initially for a more biographical focus and vowing to avoid personal attacks against GOP rivals, Quarles is betting that voters' weariness of political bickering will give him a path to winning his party's nomination while others keep up the fight.
The ad shows the two-term state agriculture commissioner in a barn and on a tractor at his family's farm in central Kentucky — an area where his family has lived and farmed for more than 200 years. It plays up folksy, grassroots themes that are staples for Quarles, who also spent considerable time in academia, having earned multiple university degrees.
“If you’re ready for a governor that thinks like you, because they were raised like you, I’d be honored to have your vote,” Quarles says in the commercial airing statewide.
Quarles' campaign said it's the start of an advertising push by the gubernatorial candidate, who stockpiled more than $900,000 in campaign cash for the stretch run to the primary election.
Twelve candidates are competing for the GOP gubernatorial nomination. The campaign is drawing national attention to see if Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear can win reelection despite his party’s struggles in the GOP-trending state. Beshear has received consistently high voter approval ratings.
Much of the focus has turned to the combative showdown between Attorney General Daniel Cameron and former United Nations Ambassador Kelly Craft — two other leading contenders for the Republican nomination. Another GOP candidate, Alan Keck, has an ad trying to benefit from that clash.
After months of campaigning, “some real fluidity” exists in the GOP contest, said Scott Jennings, a Kentucky-based Republican political commentator who was an adviser to former President George W. Bush. Asked about Quarles' ad and whether he should try to exploit the Cameron-Craft rift, Jennings said: “Ryan has a good track record of people voting for him, so I expect him to benefit from an increasingly negative race. But I think he may need something sharper here to close that deal.”
Quarles' ad touts his opposition to abortion — which the state has almost completely banned — and support for gun rights, both of which are common positions in the GOP race.
In an era in which political insults and bombast have become common, Quarles has pledged to avoid aiming personal attacks at GOP rivals, while indicating that policy disagreements are fair game.
“Can we, for once, have a governor’s race in Kentucky where it’s based on just the best ideas and not the biggest insults?” Quarles said during a recent debate on Kentucky Sports Radio.
Craft has run TV ads for months, backed by her family's fortune. Her campaign and an outside group backing her have been aggressive in lashing out at Cameron. The pro-Craft group has portrayed Cameron as an “establishment teddy bear.” A pro-Cameron group fired back, criticizing, among other things, Craft's tenure as U.S. ambassador to Canada. Craft says she played a role in facilitating the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement during her time as an ambassador.
Cameron's campaign launched its TV ads this month, blasting Beshear's pandemic policies, touting Cameron's endorsement from ex-President Donald Trump and noting the support Cameron has from law enforcement.
Quarles has tried to capitalize on his connections to rural GOP strongholds, built by his tenure as agriculture commissioner. His campaign said he has amassed more than 235 endorsements from elected Republicans across Kentucky, a sign of the party's growing strength in county courthouses.
Keck, the mayor of Somerset, has an ad playing up the back-and-forth between groups supporting Cameron and Craft. Keck's ad shows him switching off a TV playing clips of attack ads.
“Kentuckians deserve a race about the issues, but instead they are getting teddy bears and insults,” Keck said in a news release.
The onslaught of ads is likely to intensify amid the final pitches for support.
Assessing the race, Jennings said: “I think Cameron’s base is most solid, but the winner is not determined and there is work left to do for all of them. I don’t think a lot of voters have paid a lick of attention to this yet.”