What to expect in Kentucky as Republicans choose a nominee for governor

Kentucky Republicans will choose a nominee Tuesday to challenge incumbent Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear in one of the most watched elections of the year. State Attorney General Daniel Cameron, former United Nations Ambassador Kelly Craft and state Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles are among the 12 Republicans in the race.

Cameron is the best-known Republican and has the endorsement of former President Donald Trump. However, Craft is well-funded — her husband is a billionaire coal magnate, and she has loaned her campaign more than $9 million. She also has the backing of powerful U.S. Rep. James Comer, R-Ky.

Beshear has nominal opposition in the Democratic primary. He won the 2019 general election by less than 1 percentage point in the heavily Republican state, setting up what is likely to be a highly competitive general election this year.

Republicans also are choosing nominees for secretary of state, treasurer, auditor and agriculture commissioner. Democrats are choosing a nominee for agriculture commissioner.

Here’s a look at what to expect on election night:

ELECTION DAY

Polls close at 6 p.m. local time. Most of the state is in the Eastern Time Zone. However, 41 counties are in Central time, and polls in those counties will close at 7 p.m. EDT.

HOW KENTUCKY VOTES

Kentucky’s primary elections are limited to registered party members. Voters can cast ballots by mail or early in person, although most choose to vote in person on election day.

In the 2022 general election, the AP first reported results at 6:16 p.m. ET. The election night tabulation ended at 1:45 a.m. ET with 94% of votes counted.

DECISION NOTES

The AP will declare winners in eight races, including seven statewide races.

The AP does not make projections and will only declare a winner when it’s determined there is no scenario that would allow the trailing candidates to close the gap.

Should a candidate declare victory or offer a concession before the AP calls a race, we will cover newsworthy developments in our reporting. In doing so, we will make clear that the AP has not yet declared a winner and explain why.

Kentucky counts votes relatively fast compared with other states. About half the counties release all their results in a single report, while others have updates throughout the evening.

Jefferson County (home to Louisville) and Fayette County (Lexington) play a huge role in Democratic primaries because they are the biggest counties in the state and they are both heavily Democratic. Together, they accounted for 29% of the votes in the 2022 Democratic primary for U.S. Senate.

They play a lesser role in Republican primaries. Together, Jefferson and Fayette counties generated just 14% of the votes in the 2022 Republican Senate primary. Kentucky’s deep red rural counties play a larger role in Republican primaries.

Craft, who has never run for office before, has deep ties to the Lexington area. She will have to run up large margins in Fayette and the surrounding counties to be competitive. Cameron and Quarles started the campaign with better name recognition in Kentucky, as both have recently won statewide elections.

The AP may call a race in which the margin between the top two candidates is 0.5% or less, if we determine the lead is too large for a recount and legal challenge to change the outcome. In Kentucky, there are no automatic recounts in primaries. Trailing candidates would have to file a petition with the courts to request a recount.

Q: WHAT DO TURNOUT AND ADVANCE VOTE LOOK LIKE?

A: As of Feb. 1, there were 3.5 million registered voters in Kentucky, including 1.5 million Democrats and 1.6 million Republicans. AP’s preliminary statewide turnout projection is 290,000 Republicans and 260,000 Democrats.

As of Monday, 4,983 Democrats and 4,042 Republicans had cast advance votes, either in person or by mail. In the 2022 general election, 22% of voters cast their ballots before election day. Mail ballots must be received by election day to be counted.

Q: HOW LONG DOES COUNTING USUALLY TAKE?

Historically, Kentucky counts almost all votes on election night. In 2022, the vote count extended into the next day in a handful of counties, though almost all votes were counted by that afternoon.

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