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Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear in Louisville on Aug. 25, 2022.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear in Louisville on Aug. 25, 2022.Timothy D. Easley / AP file

A look back at the 2019 elections as 2023 election cycle kicks off

The two major parties spent over $93 million on governor’s races on ads in 2019. That number could be even larger in 2023.

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Democrats and Republicans will go head to head once more in three governors races across the country in 2023. 

In Louisiana, Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards is term-limited, and Republicans are eyeing the state as a flip opportunity. In Mississippi, Republican Gov. Tate Reeves is up for re-election, but may face a primary challenge from other Republicans in the state. And, in Kentucky, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear flipped the governor’s mansion in 2019, leaving Republicans eyeing his seat as one to flip back into their column.

Louisiana governor’s race

Democrats and Republicans poured a combined $51 million in ad spending into this race in 2019, where Bel Edwards’ Republican opponent Eddie Rispone spent the most — over $13 million — according to the ad tracking firm, AdImpact.

Bel Edwards spent just under $13 million, while two outside super PACs, one Democratic and one Republican, spent a combined $18 million.

So far, just one Republican has declared that they’ll run for Bel Edwards’ seat, but GOP Sen. John Kennedy has sparked rumors that he’s considering a run, too. Kennedy just finished a successful re-election campaign for Senate, where he raised over $30 million in one campaign cycle.

So far, no Democrat has announced they’ll run, which would give Kennedy a meaningful head start not just in campaigning, but also in fundraising. If he builds a war chest as big as he had for this year’s Senate race, it’s possible he could outspend any Democrat who runs by much more than Rispone outspent Bel Edwards in 2019.

Kentucky governor’s race

In Kentucky, Democrats are looking to hold onto another gubernatorial seat. But in that state, the incumbent, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, is running for re-election.

In 2019, Beshear beat then-Gov. Matt Bevin, R-Ky., by just 0.4 percentage points — or just over 5,000 votes. Beshear’s campaign outspent Bevin’s on the airwaves by almost $1 million, according to AdImpact, but the top spender overall was a Republican group called Putting Kentucky First, which is linked to the Republican Governors Association. 

Putting Kentucky First spent $9.2 million in the race, almost a third of the $30 million total spent by candidates and outside groups on the race on both sides of the aisle.

Beshear found success in his 2019, despite raising only about $5.5 million in the entire race. Already, he has over $4 million cash on hand for his re-election bid, per his latest campaign finance filing. This, plus an almost 60% approval rating, give him strong tailwinds going into 2023.

On the Republican side, at least 12 candidates have announced their intent to run for governor. This, too, helps Beshear. Candidates will be forced to spend on their bids for the Republican nomination, while Beshear can continue raising money in the meantime. 

And, Beshear shown success before when running against a wealthier candidate. In 2019, he won despite the fact that Bevin raised over $2 million more than Beshear.

Mississippi governor’s race

In Mississippi’s governor’s race, GOP Gov. Tate Reeves is eligible to run again, but hasn’t yet announced whether he will do so.

No one in either party has announced yet whether they’ll run to challenge Reeves, but it’s possible they would need a significant fundraising advantage to take him on.

In 2019, Reeves more than any other candidate or outside group involved in the race. He spent $6.7 million on the airwaves, per AdImpact, or about half of the $12 million total that was spent on the election on all sides.