Adam Edelen, former chief of staff to Gov. Steve Beshear, was elected state auditor on Tuesday, making him the official watchdog of public spending in Frankfort.
Edelen, a 36-year-old Lexington Democrat, easily defeated Republican John T. Kemper III, a Lexington developer.
"We had the resources and the energy to take this campaign to every corner of the state, and we took a message that government ought to be as good as its people, that it ought to operate cleanly and efficiently and honestly," Edelen said late Tuesday. "Folks clearly responded."
Edelen enjoyed several advantages over Kemper.
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He raised more money — $659,848 to Kemper's $37,450, as of the most recent campaign-finance reports — which paid for a stronger campaign, including television advertising.
He also rode the coattails of Beshear, his mentor, whom voters returned to office for a second term Tuesday. Some of Edelen's money came from members of the Beshear administration or Frankfort insiders who do business with it. Edelen campaigned alongside Beshear, joining him on a statewide bus tour and praising him in speeches for cleaning up government.
Republicans warned during the campaign that Edelen would be Beshear's lapdog, brushing under the rug any problems that could embarrass the governor.
"Should Steve Beshear be elected governor and should Adam Edelen be elected auditor, it absolutely would be a case of the fox watching the hen house," Steve Robertson, chairman of the Kentucky Republican Party, said in October.
However, Edelen said he will be an independent auditor who offers favors to nobody. As proof, he touted his support from the current auditor, Crit Luallen, herself a longtime Democratic politician who nonetheless exposed waste, fraud and abuse by members of her own party at the state and local levels. Some of Luallen's high-profile audits led to criminal convictions.
"Crit's been the gold standard in that office, obviously, and I should point out that I have her strong endorsement," Edelen said last month.
Kemper, 48, had backing from the conservative Tea Party movement and minor name recognition in Central Kentucky from a failed run for Congress in 2010. But his candidacy was hobbled from the start by his ongoing personal bankruptcy, which raised questions about his financial acumen, a point that Edelen hammered throughout the campaign.
When the men debated last month on television, Kemper told Edelen, "I have been running businesses longer than you've been alive."
"Correction," Edelen said. "You have been running businesses into the ground."
Edelen, divorced with two sons, was Beshear's chief of staff from 2008 to 2010, following a six-month stint as the state's homeland security director. Before that, he was an executive at Thomas & King, a Lexington restaurant franchisee. He ran unsuccessfully in 2002 for the Urban County Council.
In his campaign for auditor, Edelen said his top priorities will include monitoring the Beshear administration's shift to private management of the Medicaid program "to make sure these private contractors doing billions of dollars in public work are held accountable to the taxpayers."
The state auditor should have the authority to check the books of any company or organization that gets the majority of its money from taxpayers, Edelen said. He said he will help draft legislation for the 2012 General Assembly requiring such transparency and establishing tough penalties for anyone who obstructs an audit.
Kentucky voters have elected state auditors since 1850 to examine how public money is spent and how public agencies function.
Luallen, the 59-year-old incumbent, is finishing her second term and legally cannot seek a third. But she said this week that she will likely run for office again or seek another government position. A respected woman with 35 years of state government experience, many Democrats have urged Luallen to seek higher office, including the U.S. Senate.