Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron dominated the Kentucky GOP Governor Primary on May 16, winning nearly half the vote and finishing with a comfortable ~48%-22% lead over the second-place candidate, Kentucky Agricultural Commissioner Ryan Quarles. Cameron was endorsed by Trump and favored throughout the yearlong primary campaign. Most media coverage after Tuesday night has focused on Cameron’s victory and the horrendous showing by Ron DeSantis-endorsed GOP Megadonor Kelly Craft, who finished behind Quarles with only ~17% of the vote. Craft used her personal wealth to dominate Kentucky’s airwaves, loaning her campaign almost $10 million this year alone.
While Cameron won the all-important “Trump endorsement,” and Craft reached deep into her bank account and blanketed airwaves with ads to stay competitive, Quarles ran his campaign differently. Lacking overwhelming funds and big-name endorsements, Quarles campaigned in rural portions of the state and won over 235 endorsements from local officials. County Judge Executives are an important aspect of Kentucky’s local politics, leading the executive branch of government in a county. Quarles aggressively targetted these figures, earning the primary endorsement of 37 of Kentucky’s 94 Republican County Judge Executives. With the majority of Kentucky’s political establishment staying on the sidelines, Quarles hoped that this local support in small-town and rural Kentucky could increase his support by just enough to push him over the finish line. In the end, he overperformed his polling and comfortably outran Craft for second, but his local endorsements were no match for Trump’s big name and Cameron’s statewide name recognition.
Did Quarles Receive a Boost From County Judge Executive Endorsements?
Quarles received endorsements from County Judge Executives from all across the state. There is not a clear pattern between his greater regional strength and the locations of County Judge Executives that backed him.
Quarles performed substantially better in counties where he was endorsed by the Judge Executive by an average of a ~4% margin. In small counties (the 58 counties where less than 1500 people voted), endorsements by the Judge Executive were especially important as Quarles performed ~6% better than the baseline.
Although Ryan Quarles decisively lost to Daniel Cameron in Tuesday’s KY GOP Governor Primary, there is statistically significant evidence (p-value ~ 0.008) that he performed better in the counties where the Judge Executive endorsed him. This bump helped propel him into second place, passing Craft and her ~$10 million of spending. Even as Quarles optimized his strategy, Trump’s endorsement evidently remains the most important one in the race and helped Cameron establish a solid floor across the entire state.