Incumbent Jim Gray not only received the most votes in last week's mayoral primary, but he also had the largest margin of victory in a mayoral primary in 20 years.
Gray received 56.6 percent of the vote compared with challenger Anthany Beatty's 37.9 percent of the 44,931 votes cast. (Danny Mayer, who was eliminated Tuesday, received 5.5 percent).
Pam Miller was the last mayoral candidate who did that well in a primary. She received more than 80 percent of the vote in May 1993.
Gray's campaign says the first-term mayor's strong showing Tuesday makes him difficult — if not impossible — to beat come Nov. 4.
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"His 19 percent primary victory isn't common in Lexington, so it indicates that folks truly trust Mayor Gray's proven record of getting things done," said Rob Dible, Gray's campaign manager. "All across Lexington, voters are telling us we need consistent, conscientious, collaborative leadership."
Beatty's supporters counter that Beatty did well considering that the former police chief began raising money and campaigning in late January. Gray was able to raise money months before Beatty even entered the race. Also, Beatty is a first-time candidate.
"He didn't humiliate Gray, but he definitely left a mark, and he's only been campaigning and raising money for eight weeks," said Mike Scanlon, a former vice mayor who is supporting Beatty.
Gray had a strong showing throughout Lexington, winning 217 of 292 precincts, or 74 percent, according to an analysis of Fayette County precincts. Gray won precincts in the city's inner core and in its rural areas. Beatty won 73 precincts, or 25 percent, mainly on the city's north and northwest side, in the city's historically black neighborhoods.
Beatty, an administrator at the University of Kentucky, grew up on the city's north side and has deep ties there.
Last week, Beatty said that Gray also was behind incumbent Mayor Jim Newberry after the May 2010 primary.
In that race, Newberry received 43.7 percent of the vote; Gray received 35.7 percent. Gray eventually toppled Newberry in November.
"He was down in his last election cycle, and he overcame it," Beatty said.
To make inroads, Beatty must increase his visibility, which means more money for television and radio advertisements.
Gray outraised Beatty during the primary. Gray brought in $394,323 according to a May 5 campaign report filed with the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance. Beatty raised a little more than $140,000, campaign finance reports showed. Gray loaned his campaign $10,000. Beatty gave his campaign more than $60,000.
Gray raised $1.8 million during the 2010 campaign; of that, $900,000 came from Gray, the former CEO of Gray Construction.
On Tuesday, Gray didn't rule out giving more money to his campaign. Gray also would not say how much money he thought he was going to raise this election cycle.
Beatty acknowledged last week that raising money will be key in coming months.
"We have folks working now and we'll be raising the amount of money that is needed," Beatty said. "Our message is resonating with folks that are willing to give to our campaign."
To gain ground, Beatty will also have to go on the attack, Scanlon said. The $351 million renovation plan for Rupp Arena and attached convention center will likely be a top target.
Since Tuesday's primary, UK President Eli Capilouto said the university does not support the project and slammed the city for blaming the university after the project failed to get $80 million in state funding. UK is Rupp's marquee tenant.
Beatty, who has repeatedly said that he is not speaking for UK, said Tuesday that he has been consistent in his criticism about the project throughout the primary.
Rupp will continue to be a hot topic in the summer months and into the fall, Beatty said.
The $351 million plan calls for funding from the city and the state. Before Gray made a pitch to the state for money, all parts of the plan — including UK's support — should have been nailed down, Beatty said Thursday.
"It doesn't appear that's the case at all with this project," Beatty said.
Dible said the general election will focus on more than Rupp. Voters will demand it, he said.
Gray said he expected discussions about Rupp to continue. "Rupp Arena has been around for almost 40 years," Gray said. "Rupp Arena will be around for a long time from today."
Gray said the Rupp Arena project is more than just a construction project; it represents economic development, bringing jobs to Lexington and revitalizing downtown.
"Some may want Rupp to be the only issue, but this election will be about much more than one project," Dible said. "We'll focus on executive leadership, experience, and Mayor Gray's work to attract quality jobs and run government efficiently."
Scanlon said Gray's 56.6 percent finish on Tuesday was not a mandate, and he said Rupp gives Beatty an opportunity to make a case for a change in leadership.
"This is just going to open the door," Scanlon said. "There are a lot of other things that Gray will have to be accountable for."