It's a journalism cliche to say political candidates "traded barbs" during a debate. On Monday, the candidates running to represent Central Kentucky's Sixth Congressional District traded unsharpened pencils.
In a small theater in the Lexington Public Library, seven of the candidates running for the chance to represent 19 counties in Central Kentucky fielded questions during the League of Women Voters of Lexington candidate forum. The only candidate who declined to attend was the incumbent, U.S. Rep. Andy Barr, R-Lexington.
Aside from the number of candidates on stage, the forum often mimicked last week's debate between Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, Lt. Col. Amy McGrath and State Sen. Reggie Thomas. The candidates repeated major talking points, and some jokes, when asked for their positions on healthcare, the opioid epidemic, gun control, money in politics, election security and partisanship in Washington.
Once again, Thomas firmly established himself as the most liberal of the three major candidates running in the race. He often emphasized his support for a single payer health-care system, he responded to a question about the opioid epidemic with his desire to legalize medicinal marijuana and said the public shouldn't have access to military style weapons.
But where Thomas, 64, steered to the left, McGrath and Gray elbowed their way down the same path.
There were minor differences between the candidates — she supports a public option into Medicare, he'd like to see changes to the way patients on Medicare can bargain with pharmaceutical companies. She's open to age restrictions on guns, he wants to start with universal background checks — but several times throughout the night, McGrath noted she was in agreement with Gray.
Once again, it was in their pitch about leadership style where McGrath and Gray differed most. McGrath, 42, painted herself as the next generation of leadership, a military veteran who can corral members of Congress like she did Marines.
"We need a new generation of leaders in our country," McGrath said. "We don't need more standard politicians."
Gray, 65, touted his experience running his family company and his time as mayor of Lexington. He often related questions back to his experiences as mayor of Lexington and twice mentioned his endorsement from the United Steelworkers Union.
"I know that experience, that performance and results count," Gray said. "Getting things done counts."
The format of the candidate forum prevented interactions between candidates. The only subtle jab came from McGrath when the candidates were asked about money in politics.
After Gray said he wanted to cast a vote in Congress to reverse the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, McGrath countered by touting the amount she has received in small donations.
"I think you have to look at which candidate is running and going to be having her campaign off of small dollar donors," McGrath said.
The rest of the stage was filled with candidates who have raised little so far.
Chuck Eddy, the only Republican of the bunch, painted himself as a moderate in the likes of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower.
Democrats Theodore Green and Daniel Kemph pitched their outsider status as strengths, while perennial candidate Geoff Young called himself the "only peace candidate" before calling McGrath a war criminal. She and the other candidates onstage seemed to ignore the comment.
Monday marked the last day to register to vote in the primary election, which will be held Tuesday, May 22nd.