FRANKFORT — In a low-key contest, Democrats Elisabeth Jensen and Geoff Young are vying to earn the right May 20 to challenge one-term Republican U.S. Rep. Andy Barr in November.
"I'm the only Democratic candidate prepared to wage a successful campaign against Andy Barr," proclaims longtime education advocate Jensen, who enjoys the support of several well-known Democrats, including Gov. Steve Beshear.
"No other Democrat has the experience, knowledge and toughness to beat Andy Barr," counters Young, a retired engineer.
Barr, a Lexington attorney, defeated Democratic incumbent Ben Chandler in 2012 to represent Kentucky's 6th Congressional District, which covers Fayette and 18 other counties. He is unopposed in this spring's Republican primary election.
Jensen, 50, is making her first bid for elective office. A native of Indiana, she has spent the past decade leading Race for Education, a nonprofit that provides scholarships and focuses on literacy and other education initiatives, including financial literacy for college students.
Before starting Race for Education, Jensen worked for WinStar Farm, Walt Disney Corp. and Gitano, a jeans company.
She said her priorities in Congress would be creating jobs, improving education, mandating equal pay for women and improving the lives of children.
Young, 57, ran unsuccessfully for the state House in 2012 against Republican incumbent Stan Lee of Lexington. He got about 8 percent of the vote as a Green Party candidate.
Young said he paid a $750 fine this week after being found guilty of trespassing and disorderly conduct at the Good-Foods Co-op in Lexington, of which he had previously been a member.
The charges came after he showed up at a co-op board meeting after being told to stay away.
Young said he was expelled from the co-op board last August because some members did not like his recommendations to improve the non-profit.
Anne Hopkins, general manager of the co-op, declined Thursday to comment on Young and his relationship with the store.
A native of Massachusetts, Young came to Kentucky in 1982. He worked for state government in Frankfort for 14 years in energy offices before retiring in 2006.
If elected, Young said he would work to cut about $300 billion a year of waste from the national defense and intelligence budgets without compromising national security.
Jensen, who hopes to become the first woman elected to Congress from the 6th District, is working extra hard to capture the votes of women, who make up about 53 percent of registered voters in the district.
Of the more than 272,000 women registered to vote, 165,068 are Democrats and 87,780 are Republicans. (Overall, the district has 295,184 Democrats, 174,759 Republicans and 42,902 other.)
On Thursday, Jensen launched a "Kentucky Moms Caucus" in Lexington with a discussion of issues important to women and families, such as raising the minimum wage.
"Our intent is to bring women together to hear their concerns and to discuss how Washington can work for us instead of against us," said Liza Holland, the chairwoman of the caucus and president of Holland Management Services Inc. in Lexington.
In another move to distinguish herself from Barr, Jensen launched a radio ad last month that embraces the federal health care law pushed by President Barack Obama and Gov. Steve Beshear.
More than 400,000 Kentuckians have signed up for health insurance under the federal Affordable Care Act, with the majority of participants joining Medicaid as part of an expansion of the program ordered by Beshear.
"Thanks to Gov. Beshear, Kentucky Kynect provides health care to Kentuckians who had no insurance," Jensen says in the ad. "But Barr, along with Mitch McConnell, voted to end Kynect and let insurance companies drop coverage, deny care and charge women more."
Beshear, appreciative of the shout-out, announced last week that he was backing Jensen, sidestepping his traditional path of not endorsing a candidate in a Democratic primary.
In an email to his supporters Wednesday, Beshear said Jensen "embodies the bold leadership desperately missing in Washington. She understands that Kentucky Kynect is helping more than 413,000 people here in the commonwealth, and she's not afraid to stand up for what is right."
Beshear said some people told Jensen that supporting the health care law is politically risky, "just like some told me we shouldn't move ahead even if it meant a healthier, more productive Kentucky. I don't work that way, and neither does Elisabeth."
Young called Beshear's decision to support Jensen "a tragic mistake," saying that only he can beat Barr in November.
"If Ms. Jensen is the nominee, however, Barr will probably remain in Washington to damage all of our lives for two more years," Young said.
Young said he supports much of the federal health care law but would make changes to give people more choices. He said he is "completely opposed" to repealing the law, calling dozens of votes by Republicans in the U.S. House to repeal the law "childish."
At the end of March, Young reported raising $50,600 for his campaign, all but $600 of which came from a loan he gave to his campaign. He reported $1,600 in expenditures and $49,464 in cash on hand.
Jensen, who has lent her campaign $100,000, reported this week that she had raised more than $23,000 in April while spending more than $64,000. She had about $184,000 in cash on hand.
Both trail Barr significantly in campaign funds. He reported this week having more than $1.1 million in cash on hand.