In their television ads, U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler, D-Versailles, and Andy Barr, his Republican challenger, spend most of their time hitting each other with accusations that are often misleading or false.
But on the campaign trail, giving speeches, they scarcely mention each other. As the Nov. 2 election looms, Chandler and Barr sprint across the 16 counties of Central Kentucky's 6th Congressional District to tell voters their plans (they'll create jobs) even if they're fuzzy on details (how they'll create jobs).
Chandler, a four-term congressman, urges recession-weary voters to be patient with a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress who he says are digging out from an economic collapse that happened on the Republicans' watch.
"We're working hard to get this car out of the ditch," Chandler told a breakfast crowd at Mount Sterling's Court Days on Saturday. "And we're going to do it."
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Barr, a Lexington lawyer making his first run for elected office, says Congress has failed and won't do any better without a new direction.
"I think we need, frankly, to get the government out of the way," Barr told the Kiwanis Club in Winchester on Wednesday. "I think the reason why our economy has not recovered is not because we're not spending enough, it's because government policies are creating too much uncertainty for the employers, who are actually in a position to hire the American people once again."
In short, Chandler says the country is slowly headed in the right direction, while Barr says it's quickly headed in the wrong direction.
Chandler recognizes that Democrats are vulnerable this fall because the economy remains weak while they control the government's executive and legislative branches. He asks voters to blame the Republicans, who lost Congress in 2006 and the White House in 2008.
"They want to tell you that Democrats somehow caused this economic problem," Chandler said. "Now folks, let's just talk a little bit about the history. Y'all remember when Bill Clinton was president, don't you? You remember. And what did he leave us? He left us with a surplus and an economy that was doing really, really well."
"(President) George Bush comes into office and what do you think happens?" Chandler asked. "He gets us into wars that we didn't need to get into. He causes the economy, ultimately he causes the economy because of his policies, to go down the tubes. And by the end of his terms, the economy went into the toilet. Now, that's what happened. Don't forget that."
Chandler agreed the growing federal debt is a problem. But he said a lot of Republican critics sat on their hands and did nothing while Bush and a Republican Congress engaged in massive deficit spending. It was only after Democrats took charge that these critics began shouting about the debt and demanded massive cuts in government, he said.
"What the Republicans did is they had some sort of meeting on the road to Damascus," Chandler said. "They had some sort of group epiphany. Suddenly they think that the deficit matters. Well, you didn't hear them say a word about that when George Bush was running it up, did you? No, you didn't hear them say a word about the deficit then. In fact, you heard (Vice President) Dick Cheney say 'Deficits don't matter.' "
"Now all of a sudden we've got the Democrats in, and now what happens?" Chandler asked. He waved his hands wildly. "Whoa! We've got to fix the deficit! We've got to fix it right away!"
At the Kiwanis Club meeting in Winchester, Barr quickly recited a list of the country's economic ills: a $14 trillion national debt, 14 consecutive months of unemployment at 9.5 percent or higher, and a majority of Americans telling pollsters that they won't have the same opportunities their parents did.
In general, government is the problem, not the solution, Barr said. Businesses are scared to hire because they don't know what government is going to inflict on them next, he said.
"If you look at what the government has done over the past couple of years, it has created uncertainty," Barr said. "It passed a huge government takeover of the health-care system, financial reform that doesn't address the underlying cause of the financial crisis but does threaten to freeze capital ... the looming expiration of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts ... and we also have the prospect of this huge, massive cap-and-trade energy tax."
Barr pledged to cut "wasteful spending" without specifying what recurring costs he would ax.
Asked by a senior citizen in Winchester about federal programs that serve the elderly, Barr pledged to protect Social Security and Medicare, which together comprise about $1.2 trillion in expected spending this fiscal year. Barr said he would cut other things, but not Social Security and Medicare.
"We have got to get our domestic discretionary spending under control so we can keep our commitments to our seniors," Barr said.
Barr also praised a proposal, which he attributed to U.S. Rep. Geoff Davis, R-Ky., that would require Congress to approve any new regulations that could have an appreciable economic impact. There are too many regulatory agencies passing rules that interfere with free enterprise, Barr said.
"It's not just the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). It's other regulatory agencies, MSHA (Mine Safety and Health Administration) and OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), all those other regulatory agencies that really have taken a decidedly adversarial position against free enterprise and business in this country," Barr said.
"Now, I'm not saying we need no government at all," Barr said. "What I'm saying is, the government should be collaborative as much as possible, not adversarial."
U.S. House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, will appear in Lexington on Saturday with Andy Barr, Republican candidate for Central Kentucky's 6th Congressional District, the Barr campaign said Thursday.
Boehner and Barr are hosting a rally at 12:30 p.m. at the Fayette County Republican Victory Office at 241 Southland Drive.
If Republicans win the House on Nov. 2, Boehner is poised to replace Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., as House speaker.