FRANKFORT — In the tight race for Central Kentucky's 6th Congressional District seat, Republican Andy Barr and groups supporting him have intensified efforts in recent days to tie Democratic U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler to President Barack Obama, who is unpopular in Kentucky.
"I am most proud to endorse Sen. Barack Obama, a man of whom I can proudly say, I know I've picked a winner," Chandler says in a Barr TV ad that has blanketed Lexington TV stations over the past week.
Barr, who lost to Chandler by 648 votes two years ago, began running a new ad Monday that does not mention Chandler by name but criticizes Obama for "stifling regulations that are killing small businesses."
Meanwhile, two outside groups — the National Republican Congressional Committee and Americans for Tax Reform — have begun hammering Chandler for supporting Obama.
To bolster his credentials as a moderate, Chandler started running a TV ad late Monday that says he is "working across party lines to find commonsense solutions" on issues including veterans' care, Medicare and Social Security.
It says he "personifies conservative principles" and notes his endorsement by the National Rifle Association and the Lexington Herald-Leader's editorial board.
Obama remains unpopular in Kentucky four years after losing the state to Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primary and to Republican Sen. John McCain in that year's general election. In the Kentucky primary last spring, 42 percent of Democratic voters favored "uncommitted" for president, even though Obama was the only Democrat on the ballot.
Although Chandler was one of the first Kentucky Democrats to back Obama in 2008, he has a mixed voting record on Obama's key domestic initiatives.
For example, Chandler voted for the $800 billion economic stimulus plan in 2009 but against a 2010 bill overhauling regulations for the financial industry. He voted against Obama's health-care reform bill in 2010 but has consistently voted against repealing the law since then.
Americans for Tax Reform has launched an ad that notes Chandler's support in 2009 for an Obama-backed "cap and trade bill" designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired plants. The plan later stalled in the Senate.
The ad features a video clip of Obama speaking during a 2008 campaign interview. "If somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can. It's just that it will bankrupt them," he said.
Americans for Tax Reform, which usually backs Republicans and was founded in 1985 by Grover Norquist, is spending $318,650 on TV ads in the 6th District that started running last Thursday and will continue through Election Day.
The latest NRCC ad also mentions Obama and coal.
"The presidential race is a coin flip, but no matter who's in the White House, we need a congressman who will roll back Obama's failed policies on coal, spending and taxes," says a narrator. "Ben Chandler's been with Obama all the way; he won't stop now."
To help fight the ads against Chandler, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has spent about $265,000 on Lexington TV ads.
So far, the DCCC has focused on a 1993 charge against Barr for using a fake driver's license in Florida as a college student. Barr pleaded guilty to the charge and was ordered to provide eight hours of community service.