Democratic governor seizes commanding fundraising lead over GOP challenger in Kentucky campaign

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear has seized a commanding fundraising lead over Republican challenger Daniel Cameron in their marquee matchup in Kentucky, their latest campaign finance reports showed.

Beshear — who is seeking a second term in a state that otherwise has become a GOP stronghold — accumulated about $15 million for the November election, while Cameron has taken in $2.8 million. Heading into the campaign's stretch, Beshear had about three times more money in the bank.

An influx of spending by conservative Republican groups has helped offset Cameron's disadvantage, as partisan groups from both sides pour money into one of the nation's most closely watched elections this year. Cameron is the state's attorney general.

The fundraising disparity reflects the governor's advantage of incumbency and a widespread view that Cameron is the underdog, longtime Kentucky political commentator Al Cross said Wednesday.

“Campaign finance is a betting operation,” Cross said in a phone interview. “People hope to bet on the winner. And I think the prevailing view is that Andy Beshear is the likely winner.”

Republican strategist Tres Watson said the vast resources of outside groups, pumping millions into ads, will far outpace what the campaigns raise. Those ads have attacked the rival of their choice for governor.

“There’s so much money already being raised, will be raised, has been spent, will be spent by the outside groups,” Watson said. "They’re going to dwarf even what Andy Beshear raises and spends.”

With the election less than two months away, and with so much money pouring into the race, Watson added: “We’re running out of time to spend all of that money.”

Both sides have saturated statewide TV with a series of ads, along with the outside groups backing one candidate or the other.

Beshear has run ads touting his stewardship of the state's economy in a time of record-setting economic development and his efforts leading the response to devastating tornadoes and flooding that hit the state. The governor went on the attack with an ad slamming Cameron's support for the state's near-total abortion ban, which lacks any exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest.

Beshear also has benefited from his incumbency. Last week, Beshear announced a record investment of broadband money for Kentucky and placed the first legal sports wager at Churchill Downs, fulfilling a pledge that his administration would launch sports wagering in time for the NFL regular season.

Republican ads have slammed Beshear's record on transgender and crime issues, though Cameron's campaign changed direction recently with an ad in which Cameron, a former college football player, pledged to "leave it all on the field" if elected as governor.

Heading into the fall campaign, Beshear had the big advantage of a noncompetitive spring primary campaign, while Cameron exhausted most of his funds during a crowded GOP primary.

Beshear's latest campaign finance report showed that he raised about $6 million in contributions since the primary. In addition, he carried over about $6 million more that went unspent from the primary and added a transfer of $3 million from the state Democratic Party — putting his total at about $15 million.

Cameron’s campaign reported raising about $2.3 million in contributions since May. He carried over only about $15,000 from the primary, while his campaign received $487,000 in transfers from the state Republican Party and other county GOP offices. That brought his general election receipts to $2.8 million.

The finance reports also showed a huge disparity in spending. Beshear's campaign reported spending nearly $11 million since the primary, compared with $1.4 million spent by Cameron.

Meanwhile, Beshear’s campaign had $4.2 million still in the bank — even after the campaign said it invested $2 million to reserve TV ad time for the stretch run. Cameron had $1.4 million on hand.

The governor's fundraising reflects the “energy and momentum behind his reelection,” his campaign said.

“This fundraising report will show strong and deep support for his reelection as we head into the final weeks of the race," Beshear campaign manager Eric Hyers said in a statement. "Our campaign is enjoying a major enthusiasm advantage and this report reflects this.”

Both sides have touted organizational efforts aimed at getting their supporters to the polls in November. Cameron's campaign contends their grassroots support is deeper, given the state's GOP strength, especially across the vast rural stretches of the Bluegrass State.

"Voters are rejecting what Andy is selling. We are confident that with our conservative message, robust fundraising and extensive travel schedule, Daniel Cameron will defeat Andy Beshear,” Sean Southard, a Cameron campaign spokesman, said in a statement.

Cameron's campaign noted that the state Republican Party has raised nearly $3 million to support the entire GOP ticket of statewide candidates. It's part of an effort to encourage straight-party voting by Republican-leaning voters.