Price on Politics: Does Alan Keck have a shot at the GOP nomination for Kentucky Governor?

Price Wilborn, Commentary Editor

Four of the five top polling Republicans stood on stage for the first debate of the Kentucky Republican Gubernatorial Primary on Tuesday, March 7. The four candidates provided a range of backgrounds and experience – Attorney General Daniel Cameron, Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, State Auditor Mike Harmon and Somerset Mayor Alan Keck.

One of these candidates had a very good night at the debate – Mayor Alan Keck.

I should make a disclaimer and tell you that I didn’t get a chance to watch the debate but I have had a chance to watch clips and read up on each candidate’s performance.


Keck, a 2007 graduate of WKU, announced his run for governor in November of last year and filed his paperwork this January. Keck has served as the mayor of Somerset, Kentucky, since winning election in 2019. According to Keck’s official bio on the city’s website, “in his short time in office, he and his team have led a period of unprecedented change in Somerset – leading boldly and unapologetically to build a Somerset for all generations, charging forward with a vision to reignite the community’s economy.”

The mayor’s bio also lists several of Keck’s accomplishments since he has been in office, including creating a city logo that Somerset’s citizens have “embraced widely” to promote the city and its people, increasing productivity in the city’s workforce, introducing city festivals that attracted more than 17,000 people to the city, creating the Somerset-Pulaski Economic Development Authority and “recruiting the community’s first bourbon distillery.”

Keck has shown an interest in revitalizing Somerset, and done this he has. He has worked to grow the city’s economy, which, according to Keck’s campaign bio, “grows at twice the rate of our Commonwealth.” 

According to the Hill, Keck polled at only 2% among his Republican rivals in January, with Attorney General Cameron leading with 39%. Because he polls so low in comparison to his rivals, Keck was required to make attacks, disagree and make moves, as the Lexington Herald-Leader writes. The Herald-Leader wrote that “Keck worked the hardest to differentiate himself from the pack on Tuesday night.” 

This included disagreements on issues like medical marijuana (which he supports), pivoting the conversation about the opioid epidemic from the U.S.-Mexico border to the health of Kentucky’s families and supporting “additional exceptions to the state’s ban on abortion.”

On the issues, Keck uses Republican values and talking points like his strong Christian values and support of the Second Amendment to stake a claim as a moderate candidate compared to his rivals. He has made himself different, and this is exactly what Keck needs to do if he is to win the GOP nomination in May and defeat Beshear in November.

On Keck’s campaign website, “the Keck Game Plan” is broken down into four key issues: economy, family, public safety and education. His positions include eliminating the income tax, “provid[ing] incentives to paid maternity or paternity leave,” eliminating the sales tax on “important necessities for young families” like diapers, wipes and formula, making adoption more affordable in the commonwealth, “address[ing] the mental health provider crisis,” increasing teacher pay and pensions and “invest[ing] in public and private programs for pre-K and early literacy.” 

Keck not only lists the issues that he wants to address as governor but he provides a plethora of real-life solutions that appeal to Kentuckians on both sides of the aisle. Of Keck’s rivals, only Ryan Quarles has an issues page on his campaign website but he does not go as in-depth about his policy proposals as Keck does. Kelly Craft, Daniel Cameron and Mike Harmon don’t even have issue pages on their websites that I could find.

Keck’s platform appeals to moderate Republicans and Democrats both. His appeal to moderates sets him apart from candidates like Craft, who served in the Trump administration, and Cameron, who has received the endorsement of the former president. Many like Craft and Cameron will lean into the far-right MAGA talking points to win against Beshear, making the election about Beshear, Biden and the Democrats instead of about Kentucky.

Keck, however, makes the election about the commonwealth. Focusing on Kentucky issues that Kentucky voters care about is something that Andy Beshear has been able to do since his campaign in 2019. Keck has the ability to become the GOP’s Andy Beshear – a politician who focuses on Kentucky and will fight for all citizens of the commonwealth.

The fact is, however, that Andy Beshear is the most popular Democratic governor in the United States, with a 60% approval rating, according to a January article published by Morning Consult. This includes 50% of Kentucky Republicans and 49% of Independents who support the governor. In a general election, Keck would have to pivot to the right to appeal to voters that support the farther-right views of Craft, Cameron and Donald Trump. 

He might be able to pull support from these Republicans, but Kentucky’s GOP is still farther right than Keck stands now. To win in a primary, Keck cannot just appeal to moderate voters. Cameron and Craft lead because they have associations with and share values and policy positions with Donald Trump. Republican primary voters will likely be overwhelmingly in support of Trump, which means Cameron and Craft will have strong showings.

Keck has the opportunity to position himself well in a general election showdown with Andy Beshear, but he first has to get out of the GOP primary, something that his moderate views and current low recognition among voters may not allow.

Keck has the opportunity to be the future of the Kentucky Republican Party, but the 2023 election may not give him the opportunity to have the breakout showing that the mayor is hoping for.

Commentary editor Price Wilborn can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @pricewilborn.

If you would like to submit a reaction to a piece, Letter to the Editor or other submission, please send it to commentary editor Price Wilborn at [email protected] or [email protected].