Kentucky governor’s race ad spend hits $15 million

Mark Payne
Mark Payne
Mark Payne is the government and politics reporter for LINK nky. Email him at [email protected].

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The total ad spend on the Kentucky governor’s race has now reached just under $15 million, according to Medium Buying — a firm that tracks political advertising spending on TV and radio. 

The amount spent so far means that this year’s gubernatorial race will shatter the record set in 2019 when $24 million was spent on what was the second most expensive race that year. 

As of July 14, spending in the governor’s race had already tripled since 2019, when Gov. Andy Beshear beat out former Gov. Matt Bevin in his reelection bid. 

In July 2019, campaign spending from both Democrats and Republicans hit $9 million. By July 2023, that number was already $26.9 million, according to AdImpact. Those numbers have since increased by nearly $4 million, bringing the total to roughly $30 million.

Further, in 2019, Republican advertisers outspent Democrats nearly four to one. In 2023, Democrats have outspent Republicans two to one.

For the first time in the race, the Republican nominee, Attorney General Daniel Cameron and the PACs that support him are outspending Democratic incumbent Beshear and the PACs that support him. 

Republican spending has totaled nearly $9 million, with the Kentucky Values PAC, which is tied to the Republican Governors Association, spending just under half that amount at $4.09 million. 

A new PAC has also entered the ad spending game in the state, which has taken Republican spending past the Democrats. School Freedom Fund, a Washington D.C.-based super PAC from the conservative Club for Growth, has spent $2.93 million. 

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Super PACs can raise unlimited funds, while PACs have strict $5,000 donation limits. 

The School Freedom Fund specifically “supports candidates who believe that parents should be in charge of their children’s education, not unelected education bureaucrats.” 

In their ad, they attacked Beshear over the commutations he made during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The ad opens with a narrator saying, “These Kentucky Convicts had means and motive to sexually abuse a young child, brutally strangle a woman, allegedly murder an innocent man,” with the images of three inmates.

It then says, “Gov. Beshear issued commutations for more than 1,700 inmates. A new report found that half the criminals he let out of jail went right out and committed more crimes. One-third of them committed a new felony.”

The ad’s claim that more than half of those inmates committed crimes after they were released is correct, but it doesn’t clarify that they were charged after their planned release date. 

Bluegrass Freedom Action, which recently had one of its Kentucky directors resign due to the use of racial slurs, has spent $1.11 million. 

Also, for the first time this election cycle, Cameron’s campaign jumped into the ad game with a spend of $498,000, with their first ad launching on Aug. 8. 

The ad opens with Cameron as the narrator saying, “Since Andy Beshear has become governor, Kentucky has fewer men and women working, violent crime runs rampant, and fentanyl is ravaging our communities. New leadership is needed now more than ever.” 

One part of the ad features a high-profile incident in which a man holding a gun moves between two homes in Covington, and a woman holding her baby closes the door quickly behind her. 

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Covington resident and former Kentucky Democratic Party spokesperson Marisa McNee said it’s irresponsible that Cameron suggests crime is rampant in Covington. 

“Daniel Cameron using video footage of an incident in Mainstrasse/Covington as an example of a place where ‘violent crime’ is running rampant,” McNee said. “Covington has its issues, but I feel very safe in my neighborhood, and I think it’s disgusting that an elected official would use a scary but isolated incident in this way.” 

On the Democratic side, Beshear and the PACs supporting him have spent $6.2 million total, with $4.09 million coming directly from Beshear’s campaign. Defending Bluegrass Values — a PAC affiliated with the Democratic Governors Association has spent $2.07 million, while Preserve Protect and Defend has spent $45,000. 

Defending Bluegrass Values released an ad on Aug. 8 that tries to connect Cameron to the deep unpopularity of former Gov. Bevin. The ad opens with Bevin and the headline, “Bevin blames teachers.”

“After former Governor Matt Bevin attacked Kentucky teachers, Daniel Cameron stood behind him,” the ad says. “When Bevin let murders and sexual predators out of prison early, Cameron protected Bevin from a special prosecutor.” 

The ad then says that Cameron is bringing back Bevin’s healthcare plan and threatening to remove Kentuckians’ health coverage. 

“Kentuckians rejected those values in 2019, but Daniel Cameron is trying to bring Kentucky back to those days,” said Emma O’Brien, press secretary for the Democratic Governors Association.  

Cameron’s campaign responded in a statement that it’s the “Beshear-Biden” agenda — an argument the campaign used over the weekend to tie the two together, though polling data suggests that Kentuckians feel different.

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“Andy Beshear offers free healthcare to capable, able-bodied adults and sticks our hard-working teachers, police officers, and workers with the bill,” Cameron said in a statement.

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