Politics & Government

Contemplating his future, Chandler says all options are on the table

U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler, D-Versailles, gave his concession speech Tuesday in Lexington. Photo Mark Cornelison/Lexington Herald-Leader/MCT)
U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler, D-Versailles, gave his concession speech Tuesday in Lexington. Photo Mark Cornelison/Lexington Herald-Leader/MCT)

FRANKFORT — After 21 years as an elected official, Ben Chandler is looking for a new job.

"I have no idea what the future holds," he said Thursday morning, about 36 hours after losing his seat in the U.S. Congress to Republican Andy Barr.

Possible options for the Democrat from Woodford County include seeking another elective office, accepting an appointment for public office, becoming a lobbyist or pursuing the presidency of Eastern Kentucky University.

Chandler, 53, has been in Congress since February 2004. He won a special election then to replace Republican Ernie Fletcher, who had defeated Chandler in the 2003 race for Kentucky governor.

Chandler will depart Congress in January 2013 to make way for Barr, a Lexington attorney who defeated him by 11,786 votes in Tuesday's race for Central Kentucky's 6th Congressional District seat. Barr narrowly lost to Chandler by 648 votes in 2010.

Tired from the tough, contentious campaign, Chandler said in an interview Thursday that he has not had much time to think about his future.

"Right now, two days after the election, I'm not interested in doing anything," he said with a laugh. "But I don't rule anything entirely out."

Chandler, a lawyer, has been mentioned as a possible candidate for governor in 2015. Some have speculated he might run against Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell of Louisville in 2014.

What about running again in two years for Congress?

"I don't know, but I can tell you that these last two races for the 6th District have been very difficult, grueling," Chandler said. "To be honest with you, I think it was little bit of an upset that I won the one in 2010."

Though the district has substantially more Democratic registered voters than Republican voters — 292,805 to 166,788 — Chandler said the district is "a Republican district in performance, especially in federal elections."

"To have held it for nine years is a pretty good piece of work," he said. "As soon as President [Barack] Obama was elected in 2008, it was clear that I was on the target list for Republicans. They immediately pumped millions of dollars in here to try to defeat me.

"And two years ago, I was able to pull it out. They did everything they could this year to tie me with the president, who is unpopular in Kentucky. With all my various campaigns, I think I hold the record of the most negative ads run against a Kentucky political figure."

Chandler said he could probably get a government appointment or become a lobbyist. Armed with a law degree from the University of Kentucky, he also said he could practice law.

When asked if he might be interested in the EKU presidency, Chandler said he has "a great deal of love" for the university in Richmond.

"I made a special effort in my role as congressman to help that university, and I think it's a very important institution for young people in Eastern Kentucky and for counties that surround Madison," he said. "I think it would be an attractive job for anybody."

Chandler said he has not discussed the job with anyone related to EKU's presidential search.

President Doug Whitlock, who has led EKU since 2007, announced in August his intention to retire effective July 31, 2013.

The one thing Chandler said he is certain about is his desire to spend more time in Central Kentucky.

"The idea of living in Central Kentucky more, not having to constantly raise campaign funds and running back and forth to Washington, is something I look forward to — at least for now," he said.

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