U.S. Sen. Rand Paul will face Tuesday’s Democratic primary winner, Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, in the November general election. Both won easily Tuesday.
Paul, a first-term senator and former presidential hopeful, beat two little-known challengers in the Republican primary in a landslide victory. Gray, a two-term mayor, was able to turn back six challengers in a crowded field of Democratic candidates.
Paul, in a video statement, thanked supporters and pledged to continue to “fight to balance the budget, to spend only what comes in and to quit sending our hard-earned tax dollars overseas.”
In his statement, Paul did not mention Gray.
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But National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Greg Blair issued a statement calling Gray “just the latest in a growing line of Democrats who thought they could run from their party’s toxic policies of the last eight years.”
Gray, in his victory speech at Manchester Music Hall in Lexington, wasted little time taking a swipe at Paul and his failed presidential political aspirations.
“Senator Paul has spent more time focused on the corn fields of Iowa and the coffee shops of New Hampshire than he has looking after the state of Kentucky. Folks, our U.S. Senate seat is a terrible thing to waste,”Gray said. “People want a senator that lives by three simple words. Kentucky first always.”
Tom Lopach, the executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, congratulated Gray late Tuesday and said “Jim has a proven record of working with Democrats and Republicans alike to find commonsense solutions,” Lopach said. “Senator Rand Paul has made it clear that he considers his job as senator a consolation prize.”
Gray, 62, faces an uphill battle to unseat the well-known incumbent in a state that has not sent a Democrat to the U.S. Senate since Wendell Ford. Ford left office in 1998.
The Cook Political Report and the Rothenberg and Gonzales Political Report, two non-partisan online newsletters, have Paul, 53, easily winning the race.
On Tuesday night, Gray acknowledged his underdog status.
“I have no illusions about it being a challenging race, but I’ve got the experience and I’ve got the record,” Gray said. “That experience is in the private sector, in building a company a family business and then taking that into the public sector and running a city, so I take my experience and my record and I’d put that to the people any day.”
Gray has led Paul in fundraising, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.
In the first quarter, Gray raised just over $1.75 million, thanks largely to a $1 million personal loan. That was more than Paul’s $1.5 million. Two independent groups — Concerned American Voters and America’s Liberty PAC — have said they will spend money on Paul’s campaign.
Gray may not get much monetary help from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Democrats need only five seats to gain a majority of the Senate, and four for control of the chamber. Several senate races including races in Illinois, Florida and Wisconsin look more favorable for Democrats.
“The Democratic Party has a lot of distractions this year,” said Stephen Voss, an associate professor of political science at the University of Kentucky. “They have a lot more promising opportunities than the Gray campaign.”
Gray also has limited name recognition outside of Central Kentucky. Meanwhile, thanks in large part to Paul’s failed bid for the Republican presidential nomination, Paul is very well known both inside and outside of Kentucky, Voss said.
Don Dugi, a professor of political science at Transylvania University, said money may not be Gray’s biggest problem heading into the November general election.
Among the other factors: Gray is the first openly gay candidate to run for U.S. Senate. The Republicans won all but two statewide offices in 2015. The state is becoming more conservative. Lexington leans liberal.
“The rest of the state does not look like Lexington,” Dugi said. Social conservatives in Eastern and Western Kentucky may not be as open-minded as Lexington voters, he said.
Gray has said that he doesn’t think his sexual orientation will be an issue in his first statewide race.
Over the past several months, Paul has traveled throughout Kentucky speaking on the same themes he did in his first successful bid for Senate in 2010 — pledging to cut government spending, debt and regulation.
During the primary race, Gray touted his business acumen as the former CEO of Gray Construction, his success in attracting and keeping jobs and his record as mayor of Kentucky’s second-largest city.
Grant T. Short
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