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Nancy Pelosi is all but a dirty word in Kentucky Democratic primary for Congress

Candidates prepare for KET's Sixth District Congressional Forum for the Democratic Party on Monday, May 15 2018. From Left: Jim Gray, Theodore Green, Amy McGrath, Daniel Kemph, Reggie Thomas and Geoff Young.
Candidates prepare for KET's Sixth District Congressional Forum for the Democratic Party on Monday, May 15 2018. From Left: Jim Gray, Theodore Green, Amy McGrath, Daniel Kemph, Reggie Thomas and Geoff Young. Daniel Desrochers

Opponents have tried to paint Lexington Mayor Jim Gray as the establishment candidate in the Democratic primary for Kentucky's 6th Congressional District , but Gray was the only one of three major candidates Monday who ruled out voting for Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House.

"It’s time for leadership change and that includes Nancy Pelosi," Gray said during KET's 6th Congressional District Candidate Forum, echoing the statements of Conor Lamb, a Democrat who won in a conservative Pennsylvania Congressional District last fall.

Gray's stance contrasted with the answer given by former fighter pilot Amy McGrath, the candidate who has been most critical of Gray's ties to Democratic Party leaders. When asked the same question, McGrath wouldn't commit to voting for or against Pelosi if Democrats retake the House in November.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to say because I don’t know who’s running,” McGrath said.

A candidate's stance on the longtime Democratic leader from San Francisco can have a significant impact on their campaign. On one hand, Pelosi's position in the party gives her influence over a large purse of campaign cash. On the other hand, Kentucky Republicans have all but made Pelosi's name a curse word in past campaign commercials tying local Democrats to the unpopular leader.

Gray's decision is likely made easier because he is a millionaire with the ability to self-fund his campaign. McGrath and state Sen. Reggie Thomas, D-Lexington, don't have that option.

"I'm not in favor of Ms. Pelosi, but again, I just can't say that I would categorically not vote for her, because who's she running against?" Thomas said after the debate Monday. "If she's running against someone who's extreme, or just clearly unfit, I'm not going to vote for that person, I'm going to exercise wise judgment."

Gray's answer also makes it more difficult for McGrath's campaign to portray him as a party insider with a week left before the May 22 primary, but that won't stop McGrath from trying. She was the first to criticize a fellow candidate Monday, when she faulted Gray over his recruitment to the race by Democratic Party leaders and U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth of Louisville.

"Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic Party leadership recruited and backed Jim Gray to get in the race against me," McGrath said. "So I have no love or allegiance to them and I am deeply concerned about the leadership of the national Democratic Party. I believe it is time, it is time for a new generation of leaders."

She said the national party is seen as a San Francisco and New York City party. When asked after the debate about her campaign raising significant portions of its money from California and New York, McGrath said that was different.

"My campaign money is coming from folks all around the country and in Kentucky," she said. "So I don't see that as I'm being controlled by anything. People are donating to my campaign and actually I don't owe anyone anything."

Democrats Theodore Green, Daniel Kemph and Geoff Young, who are running limited campaigns, also participated in the KET forum.

Hear the stance of Kentucky congressional candidate Jim Gray on health care, guns, and the opioid epidemic.

Hear the stance of Kentucky congressional candidate Amy McGrath on health care, guns, and the opioid epidemic.

Hear the stance of Kentucky congressional candidate Reggie Thomas on healthcare, guns, and the opioid epidemic.

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