Former U.S. Sen. Wendell Ford waded into the 6th District congressional race Thursday, telling regulars at the Lexington Senior Center that they need to re-elect Democratic Rep. Ben Chandler to help protect Medicare and Social Security.
Ford, a former Kentucky governor who served 24 years in Washington, was trying to refocus the race on entitlement programs, a tactic that's playing well nationally for Democrats.
"This is the time you ought to vote selfish," Ford said. "Vote for someone who will protect Medicare and Social Security."
Ford said preserving the entitlements is the biggest issue in the Nov. 6 election, and he said Kentuckians can count on Chandler to do that.
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Meanwhile, Republican challenger Andy Barr campaigned Thursday at the Nicholas County Senior Citizens Center, repeating GOP claims that federal health-care reforms supported by Chandler cut $716 billion from Medicare.
"Only one candidate in this race has ever cut your Medicare, and that's Ben Chandler," Barr said.
The health care law did find $716 billion in cost savings, but they mainly come from insurance companies and hospitals, not beneficiaries, according to the fact-checking site PolitiFact.
Chandler and Barr are engaged in what is expected to be Kentucky's most competitive general election congressional race. Barr, a Lexington attorney, sought a rematch with Chandler after losing a squeaker to him two years ago.
Barr has focused largely on the economy in recent weeks, lamenting the loss of some 2,000 coal mining jobs in the state over the past year. Part of Barr's strategy has been to link Chandler with President Barack Obama, an unpopular figure in Kentucky because of environmental policies that many believe have been detrimental to the state's mining industry.
Chandler, however, has gotten the endorsement of the United Mine Workers of America. He said Thursday that coal is important in the 6th District because it helps to keep electric rates low, allowing manufacturing plants to operate more affordably.
Lexington, the largest city in the district, also is home to several coal companies, and has a large population of former miners who left the coalfields in search of work.
Chandler complained Thursday that the Barr campaign has run a nasty race, distorting facts to try to win favor with voters. He said Barr's claim that the health care overhaul cut Medicare is not true.
"I'm appalled by the lies," Chandler said. "They're not interested in the truth."
In the confusion generated by round-the-clock TV ads attacking and counter attacking, Ford is using his influence as a senior statesman in Kentucky to tout Chandler. He said seniors have far more to fear from Republicans who want to privatize Medicare and Social Security. Republicans have proposed changing Medicare to give people who are under 55 today the option of being paid a sum that could be used toward private insurance premiums.
"When you've got a lot of money you can say anything you want to, and you can distort the truth pretty severely," Ford said.