Politics & Government

In Democratic dogfight, battle for dollars comes first. Who’s pulling ahead?

Lexington Mayor Jim Gray raised more money than his Democratic opponents in his first month as a candidate in the primary election to challenge Republican Andy Barr for his Central Kentucky congressional seat.

After entering the campaign on Dec. 5, Gray had less than a month to raise $344,213 before filing his campaign finance report for the last quarter of 2017. That was slightly more than the $326,007 raised by retired fighter pilot Amy McGrath during the final three months of the year. Both candidates outraised state Sen. Reggie Thomas’ total of $68,489 by a nearly 5-to-1 margin.

“I think the results illustrate excitement and momentum,” said Jamie Emmons, Gray’s campaign manager. “To have this kind of result in the middle of the holidays, that’s a really solid result.”

McGrath, though, still has the largest war chest of the Democratic challengers, with $656,129 on hand at the end of December, double the $323,855 Gray had on hand.

Gray, who is independently wealthy, has not yet donated any of his own money to his campaign, as he did in his failed bid for U.S. Senate in 2016 against U.S. Sen. Rand Paul.

In the early stages of the campaign, McGrath has tried to paint herself as an outsider and Gray as an establishment candidate. She has been vocal about the fact that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee continued to recruit Gray after her campaign announcement video went viral in August and propelled her to top-tier fundraising status in the first three months of her campaign.

McGrath’s campaign manager noted Thursday that 41 percent of the money she raised came from people donating less than $200, compared to about 3 percent for Gray.

“Nearly all of Jim Gray’s money came from his wealthy friends and most of Andy Barr’s money comes from special interest PACs,” said Mark Nickolas, McGrath’s campaign manager. “Small dollar donors account for just 3 percentof both Gray and Barr’s totals. That should tell you everything.”

Emmons shrugged off the wealthy donor attack, focusing on Gray’s ability to raise donations from within Kentucky.

Gray received 85.4 percent of his donated money from Kentuckians, compared to 14 percent for McGrath.

“I’d say we’re proud to have local support,” Emmons said. “It’s because of these local supporters that Jim beat Rand Paul in the district in 2016.”

Nickolas said McGrath’s ability to garner national media attention has allowed her to continue receiving small donations from around the country, even as “Jim Gray effectively managed to freeze the bulk of the larger-dollar establishment Democratic money.

“We weren’t going to let the establishment bias keep us from being competitive in this race,” he said.

Both McGrath and Gray are dwarfed by Barr’s campaign war chest of $1,610,637. The incumbent raised $415,245 in the final quarter of the year, with 61 percent coming from Political Action Committees.

“Of the three main Democratic candidates in this race, one has raised all of her money out-of-state from the extreme left, one has spent millions of dollars from his personal fortune on losing campaigns, and one is struggling to raise any money at all,” said Rick VanMeter, a spokesman for Barr. “On the other hand, Congressman Barr has always had strong grassroots support from across the district and will be well-prepared to take on whoever the Democrats choose to nominate.”

Despite having only $21,689 to spend, Thomas said he has no intention of getting out of the race.

“I was the first one to file of the major candidates and I am going to be on the ballot and hopefully victorious,” Thomas said.

Two of the three other Democrats in the race have not filed financial documents with the Federal Elections Commission. Geoff Young, a perennial candidate, reported having $7,917.14 on hand.

Daniel Desrochers: 502-875-3793, @drdesrochers, @BGPolitics