Not long after U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler, D-Versailles, arrived in Washington D.C. in 2004, he met a fellow freshman legislator from Illinois who impressed him.
So when Sen. Barack Obama announced his intentions to run for president, Chandler was one of the few Kentucky Democrats to endorse him.
Chandler knew the move wouldn't be popular in a state that overwhelmingly voted for Sen. Hillary Clinton during the May Democratic primary and where Republican nominee John McCain holds a solid lead over Obama. Hundreds of angry constituents called him.
"I did it because I honestly believe that he can be a transformative figure," Chandler said. "I think he is exceptionally intelligent and he has the best interest of the country at heart."
Despite the outrage from constituents, Chandler, 49, faces only token opposition in the Nov. 4 election.
Republican challenger Jon Larson, a Lexington lawyer who has run unsuccessfully for the Lexington Fayette Urban County Council and state Attorney General, has little name recognition and no campaign war chest.
Chandler has both name recognition — his grandfather was popular Governor A.B. "Happy" Chandler — and a well-stocked campaign chest, nearly $1 million.
That means Chandler, a former two-term attorney general and state auditor. has spent more time campaigning for other candidates this election cycle then he has spent on his own election.
Meanwhile, Larson hasn't filed a campaign finance report with the Federal Election Commission because he hasn't raised or spent more than $5,000.
Larson, who beat a Frankfort security company owner to get the Republican nomination, says he's running because he believes that people should have a choice come Nov. 4. His campaign has been low-key — his only campaign literature is a business card. He has no real financial support from the Republican Party.
"I'm offering people something totally different" Larson said. "I think people are tired of special interest money in elections. My principals are not for sale."
Larson, 63, is a criminal defense attorney whose positions — such as giving immigrants work visas and rehabilitation of criminals rather than incarceration — places him ideologically closer to Democrats than Republicans.
Chandler won his first state-wide race for state auditor in 1991 when he was only 32. He then served two terms as state Attorney General before running for governor in 2003, but lost that race to Republican Ernie Fletcher.
He won his current seat in a special election in 2004 and was easily re-elected in 2006.
Disagreement on Iraq
Larson, a veteran, and Chandler differ on their stances in Iraq. Larson believes that the Untied States should stay in Iraq until it is stable. Chandler believes that the United States should withdraw sooner rather than later.
"The only thing that we have done in Iraq is strengthen Iran," said Chandler, who visited Iraq earlier this year on a whirlwind 24-hour tour.
He proposes moving troops to Afghanistan. Larson disagrees.
Various countries have tried to capture Afghanistan — most recently the former Soviet Union in the late 1970s — and failed, Larson said.
"I'm not sure that we have all the answers for the Afghanistan situation," Larson said. "I think there should be further strategy or policy."
Agreement on the bailout
Chandler voted against the $700 billion bailout bill because there were no assurances that the cash infusion on Wall Street would trickle down to home owners or small businesses.
"That's more money than we've spent in Iraq," Chandler said of the bailout price tag.
Chandler said he would support an economic stimulus package that focused on infrastructure — much like President Franklin Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration.
"We know that works," Chandler said, noting that the country's roads, bridges and buildings have long been neglected.
Larson said he also would not have voted for the bailout.
"I don't think we've thought this legislation through completely and I think there is a better way — and that's called bankruptcy," Larson said.
If those companies that came to Congress with their hand out had gone into bankruptcy, there may have been more oversight over executive pay and bonuses, he said.
The Galapagos Islands
Chandler is proud of his position on the powerful House Appropriations Committee and his environmental track record during his four years in Washington.
But Larson has criticized Chandler for a trip the congressman took to the Galapagos Islands earlier this year as a member of the Science and Technology Committee. The group met with researchers who were studying climate change and the rising acidity levels of the ocean. Chandler has defended the trip and said it was key to helping Congress understand climate change.
Larson said the trip, which cost at least $21,000 of taxpayer money for four members of Congress and their guests — was not necessary.
"There is no adequate reason such scientific education could not have been presented more cheaply in Washington D.C.," Larson said.
But Chandler said there are some things that Congress must witness first-hand. Chandler did not take anyone with him, unlike other legislators on the trip.
"I guess we could stay in Washington and not go anywhere but the problem is we are in a global economy," Chandler said. Moreover, what happens in one part of the world effects another, especially when it comes to the environment.
Larson has also questioned why Chandler has refused to debate him publicly. Nearly all incumbents skipped televised Kentucky Education Television debates this year.
"I think the people of central Kentucky deserve someone who will talk about their positions," Larson said.