Politics & Government

Andy Barr ousts Ben Chandler in Kentucky's 6th Congressional District

Republican Andy Barr and his wife, Carol, were congratulated by supporters in Lexington Tuesday night after Andy Barr defeated incumbent Ben Chandler for Kentucky's 6th Congressional District seat. Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff
Republican Andy Barr and his wife, Carol, were congratulated by supporters in Lexington Tuesday night after Andy Barr defeated incumbent Ben Chandler for Kentucky's 6th Congressional District seat. Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff

The second time around proved a winner Tuesday for Republican Andy Barr in wresting Central Kentucky's 6th Congressional District seat from Democratic incumbent Ben Chandler.

Barr, a Lexington attorney, lost to Chandler in 2010 by 648 votes but defeated him Tuesday by more than 11,000 votes, thanks in large part to a huge sentiment in the 19-county district against Democratic President Barack Obama.

Barr was successful in linking Chandler to Obama, especially on Chandler's support in 2009 for the Obama-backed "cap and trade" bill that angered coal officials by seeking to curb carbon dioxide emissions from coal-powered plants. The measure never did become law.

During a victory rally at the Marriott Griffin Gate in Lexington, an ebullient Barr said some people wrote him off two years ago and said he should not seek a rematch.

"Maybe at one point in time they had a point," he said. "After all, especially after redistricting, we faced an entrenched incumbent with a celebrated name in Kentucky in a district with twice as many registered Democrats as Republicans. But when they told us we couldn't win, we said 'for the sake of our country, we cannot afford to lose.'"

After his speech, Barr told reporters that voters wanted a change in economic policies.

"We need and the American people deserve more economic opportunity and jobs," he said. "That message resonated with the people of this district, and now it's my responsibility to get that accomplished for them."

Barr said he was able to build "a consensus of shared values" across the district and said it is his "duty to do everything I can to work" with whoever is president.

"I don't think we have any choice because the problems of this country are too great," he said. "We have to work on a bipartisan basis."

Barr said Chandler called him to concede and pledged to help him with a smooth transition. He said he thanked Chandler for his service in government.

Chandler publicly conceded the race at about 9:15 p.m. during a short speech at a Democratic gathering at Buster's in downtown Lexington.

"The Barr campaign did an excellent job in attaching me to the president," he later told reporters.

Chandler declared it "a bit of a miracle" that he prevailed two years ago.

Chandler, who has been mentioned as a possible candidate for governor in 2015, declined to say much about his political future, other than to say, "Never say never." The loss, he said, "frees me up, doesn't it?"

During his concession speech, he said, "whether I serve again in public life or elsewhere, I will always look forward to serving the people of the Commonwealth of Kentucky."

Chandler, who was elected to Congress in 2004 after losing a bid for governor the previous year, failed to win Tuesday's race even after the state legislature gave him a distinct advantage earlier this year in redrawing the district's boundary lines. The legislative redistricting increased the number of Democrats in it by 8,319 and removed 2,715 Republicans to other districts.

Barr made coal a central part of his campaign, though there are no active coal mines in the district. He said Central Kentuckians depend on coal for cheap electricity rates and that the loss of jobs in the coalfields hurts businesses in the district.

Coal executives and their political action committees, disgusted with Obama, gave tens of thousands of dollars to Barr's campaign.

Chandler acknowledged that running on a ticket with Obama was a challenge. Obama lost the district by 12 percentage points in 2008 even though Fayette County, the district's most populous county, sided with Obama.

State Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington, attributed Barr's victory to "a repudiation of the president and the president's policies. Rep. Chandler agreed with the president way too much and the people here didn't care for it. That's the bottom line."

State Sen. Kathy Stein, D-Lexington, called Chandler's loss "quite a shock. I thought the campaign was going well but I wasn't paying enough attention to the counties outside Fayette."

Stein also attributed Chandler's loss to "interference" of the coal industry and outside special interest ads pushing Barr.

The race between Barr and Chandler went down to the mire with numerous negative, name-calling ads. Both candidates said this year's race was nastier than the one in 2010.

The campaigns and outside interest groups spent nearly $4 million on television ads in Lexington.

In one ad by Barr's campaign, a man dressed as a coal miner called Chandler a "low life."

Meanwhile, Chandler and the Democratic National Congressional Committee aired ads that accused Barr of trying to hide his "criminal record." Barr was charged by police with possession of a fake driver's license nearly 20 years ago, when he was a 19-year-old college student. He has called the incident a stupid mistake.

Chandler maintained that Barr showed a lack of integrity when he failed to disclose the incident when he applied for a state job in the administration of former Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher.

Barr went on to become Fletcher's deputy general counsel. He was not implicated in the hiring scandal that marred the Fletcher administration, but that didn't stop Chandler and national Democrats from repeatedly mentioning that Barr's office was searched by law enforcement officials during the hiring investigation.

Throughout the campaign, Chandler maintained that he is "a moderate Democrat" who helped the auto industry in Kentucky by his support of the federal auto bailout and other federal assistance. He also contended that Barr would harm the elderly by dramatically altering the Medicare program.

Barr backed a Medicare plan offered by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, Republican Mitt Romney's running mate for vice president. Ryan's plan would attempt to slow the increase in government spending on Medicare by implementing a system of payments to senior citizens, who could use the money to buy health insurance.

An independent candidate in Tuesday's race grabbed about 3 percent of the vote. Randolph Vance, a Lexington convenience store employee, ran a limited campaign and did not raise campaign funds.

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