Andy Barr's alliance with shutdown Republicans could spell trouble

syoungman@herald-leader.comOctober 17, 2013 

Andy Barr had raised about $1.3 million at the end of 2013 with $900K in cash.

Most of the House Republicans who dug in over including President Barack Obama's health care law in budget negotiations, eventually forcing a government shutdown, are in safe districts and might even receive a hero's welcome.

U.S. Rep. Andy Barr, R-Lexington, is not from one of those districts.

Barr's decision to vote with the group of Republicans most commonly identified with the Tea Party could cause the freshman congressman some heartburn when voters go to the polls next November if Democrats are able to mount a credible challenge.

Like most off-year elections, the 6th District congressional race has not generated a great deal of excitement more than a year away from the election.

But national Democrats, eager to retake the House after what Obama called a "shellacking" in 2010, have put Barr's seat on their list of targets.

After voting Wednesday night against the final deal that reopened the government and extended the debt ceiling, Barr told the Lexington Herald-Leader that he had reflected on his campaign promises and his daughters who stand to inherit a massive national debt. He was adamant that he had not considered the political ramifications.

"You know what? I don't care, and I am not focused on politics," Barr said. "This is not about politics. This is about the next generation."

Throughout the most recent battle, Barr has stood firm on his position, saying similar things on Wednesday night that he did in a Herald-Leader interview just hours before the shutdown began.

Barr argued that there should be no disconnect between an expensive health care law and a spending bill. On Wednesday night, the congressman appeared to have no regrets.

"I feel very confident that I did the right thing because this is what my constituents asked me to do," he said.

But there are far more Democrats in Barr's district than in districts represented by the Tea Party Republicans most Americans appear to be blaming for the shutdown.

The Sixth District has typically been a swing district, having elected Democrats Scotty Baesler and Ben Chandler and Republicans Larry Hopkins and Ernie Fletcher.

In 2012, Barr soundly defeated incumbent Chandler even though state Democrats redrew the lines of the district in a way to make Chandler's seat safer.

The Democratic field challenging Barr is coming together.

Both Joe Palumbo and Elisabeth Jensen showed modest quarterly fundraising reports earlier this week when compared to Barr's war chest, which has about $781,000 in cash.

Palumbo, who loaned his campaign $50,000, has about $109,000 in cash on hand to Jensen's $79,000.

Jensen released a statement through her campaign on Thursday criticizing Barr's vote against the final agreement.

"Congressman Andy Barr continued playing partisan politics, voting against the deal — one of only two members of Kentucky's delegation to the House to do so," Jensen's campaign said. "He voted not only to continue the government shutdown, but in favor of default and the resulting impact on the full faith and credit of the United States — the height of fiscal irresponsibility."

National Democrats, meanwhile, have been sowing the seeds of opposition in Lexington, which favored Chandler last year while most of the rest of the district voted for Barr.

During the shutdown, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the liberal Progressive Change Campaign Committee held small rallies outside Barr's Lexington office.

Jeremy Funk, communications director for the liberal advocacy group Americans United for Change, teed off on Barr in a statement Thursday, noting a report from the ratings agency Standard & Poor's that estimated the shutdown "has taken $24 billion out of the economy."

"Apparently a $24 billion hole blown in the economy under the Tea Party shutdown wasn't enough damage done for Congressman Barr," Funk said.

"Barr not only wanted to keep the government closed and see the GDP shrink even more, he wanted to take the economic sabotage to the next level by threatening the full faith and credit of the United States. Barr has clearly pledged total allegiance to the Tea Party economic arsonists in Congress, the consequences for the nation and his constituents be damned."

Barr was steadfast, however, repeating his belief that "Obamacare" should not be separated from spending bills.

"This is a spending bill," Barr said. "This is a tax and spending bill. There is a fundamental connection between putting the American taxpayers on the hook for an additional $2 trillion."

Sam Youngman: (502) 875-3793.Twitter: @samyoungman. Blog: bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com

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