FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Republican Kentucky Auditor Mike Harmon said Monday that he’s running for governor, getting an early jump on what could become a crowded slate of challengers seeking to unseat Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear in 2023 in a state that has continued to shift toward the GOP during Beshear’s time in office.
Harmon confirmed to The Associated Press that he’s entering the race, with plans to file his candidacy paperwork as soon as Monday.
He’s known for his folksy style while building a political resume that includes a lengthy stint as a state lawmaker. He’s in his second term as state auditor, having ousted the Democratic incumbent in 2015 and following up with an easy reelection victory in 2019.
Harmon on Monday took aim at Beshear’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, criticizing the governor’s restrictions that were meant to curb the virus’ spread. Kentucky has had lower numbers of cases and deaths than neighboring states, but the governor’s actions have drawn fierce opposition from Republicans concerned about overzealous government, a theme likely to be central to Harmon’s campaign.
“The people of Kentucky, they’ve had their liberties and their livelihoods suppressed and stolen,” he said in a phone interview. “And really a lot of the promises that have been made to restore or make people whole really have fallen very short.”
Beshear, who lifted most of the virus restrictions, says his actions saved lives and were in line with decisions made in many states to combat the virus. Beshear says Kentucky’s economy has quickly rebounded from the pandemic downturn and last week reported a massive state budget surplus.
State Democratic Party spokeswoman Marisa McNee defended Beshear’s record, saying the governor has done “a great job” in leading Kentucky through the pandemic. Kentucky’s economy, she said, is “set to take off under his leadership.”
“While the Republicans continue to play politics, Gov. Beshear is focused every day on doing his job, and we’re confident the people of Kentucky see that,” she said.
Harmon also blamed the governor for the long waits endured by many Kentuckians in seeking unemployment benefits during the pandemic-caused economic downturn. Harmon released an audit early this year that pointed to a huge backlog of unread emails piled up in computers at Kentucky’s unemployment insurance office as it struggled to process claims.
Harmon said he hopes to build quick momentum with his early entry into the governor’s race.
“I’m not one of those that can personally finance, so it’s important for me to … get the message out, build the network and raise the money just to make sure that we get our message out,” he said.
Harmon compiled a conservative voting record as a longtime state representative, when Republicans were in the House minority. The GOP now has a supermajority edge in both the state House and Senate. Harmon upset Democratic Auditor Adam Edelen in 2015, overcoming the incumbent’s massive fundraising advantage in an election that showed the state’s tilt toward the GOP.
Copyright 2021 the Associated Press. All rights reserved.