Joe Palumbo enters Democratic primary for Congress in Central Kentucky

jcheves@herald-leader.comJuly 18, 2013 

Joe Palumbo, a Lexington business owner from a political family, on Thursday became the third Democrat to announce plans to challenge freshman U.S. Rep. Andy Barr, R-Lexington, in the 2014 race for Central Kentucky's 6th Congressional District.

Palumbo, 37, is president of Palumbo Lumber and the son of longtime state Rep. Ruth Ann Palumbo, D-Lexington. His wife, Jennifer Nime Palumbo, is a television news anchor for WKYT-TV and WDKY-TV. They have two children.

In an interview, Joe Palumbo declined to criticize Barr's performance in office but said "Congress overall just doesn't seem to be successful this session."

"Washington, D.C. is a place that needs a lot of work," he said. "There is a lot not getting done right now. As a business owner and more importantly as a father, I want to see changes that make people's lives better, starting right here in the 6th District."

"Jobs and the economy" will be among his key issues, Palumbo said, and his mother will be an important adviser.

"With Mom being in the legislature, public service has been a part of our family for many years," he said.

The other Democrats to declare their bids in recent weeks are Elisabeth Jensen, executive director of the nonprofit Race for Education, and lawyer Michael Coblenz. Both live in Lexington. The Democratic primary will be held in May 2014.

Jensen, the first to announce, filed a campaign-finance report on Monday showing $68,262 in cash on hand, much of which came from herself and several friends in the thoroughbred horse industry. Coblenz filed his candidacy papers this month and did not have a campaign-finance report due.

Barr, 39, was elected to Congress last year, defeating incumbent Democrat Ben Chandler for the right to represent the 19-county district that includes Lexington and its suburbs, and the capital city of Frankfort.

As an incumbent, Barr more easily can fill his campaign coffers in Washington. Just weeks after last fall's election, lobbyists hosted a "debt retirement luncheon" for Barr at Charlie Palmer Steak near the U.S. Capitol, with guests encouraged to pay up to $2,500 per person and up to $5,000 per political action committee.

As of June 30, Barr reported having $579,514 cash on hand, with nearly half of this year's donations coming from political action committees. Several Washington observers, including the Cook Political Report and the Rothenberg Political Report, this month were predicting that Barr would be re-elected.

"Congressman Barr is focused on doing the work the people of the 6th District elected him to do just a few short months ago," Barr spokeswoman Catherine Gatewood said Thursday.

"Just this week he has worked to delay implementation of the individual and employer mandates in Obamacare that hurt American families, craft legislation that will protect hardworking taxpayers from having to bail out corrupt government-sponsored enterprises like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and will vote to get Washington bureaucrats out of Kentucky classrooms and better empower local communities to fix our broken education system," Gatewood said.

John Cheves: (859) 231-3266. Twitter: @BGPolitics. Blog: bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com

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