Politics & Government

Andy Barr wins second term in Congress over challenger Elisabeth Jensen

U. S. Rep. Andy Barr D-Lexington speaks to supporters following his reelection to Congress at the Embassy Suites in Lexington, Ky., Tuesday, November 4, 2014. Photo by Matt Goins
U. S. Rep. Andy Barr D-Lexington speaks to supporters following his reelection to Congress at the Embassy Suites in Lexington, Ky., Tuesday, November 4, 2014. Photo by Matt Goins Herald-Leader

Central Kentucky voters gave U.S. Rep. Andy Barr, R-Lexington, a second term in Congress on Tuesday, overwhelmingly rejecting a bid by Democratic challenger Elisabeth Jensen.

"As I have said many times, I ran for this office for a cause, not a career," Barr, 41, told a cheering crowd at the Embassy Suites in Lexington. "And that cause is to save America from bankruptcy, to promote policies that will get Americans back to work and to hold Washington accountable to hard-working taxpayers."

Barr commended Jensen for "engaging in this important debate of ideas about how to best tackle the challenges facing our country."

This year's contest for the 6th Congressional District was overshadowed by the battle over Mitch McConnell's U.S. Senate seat. With relatively little attention paid to the race, most voters simply decided to stick with the incumbent, said Don Dugi, a political scientist at Transylvania University.

"I think that Andy Barr is perceived in political circles as something of a seat-warmer, more than anything else," Dugi said. "Even here in Lexington, where he's from, I doubt that one person in a hundred — if you stopped them on the street — could identify for you a single thing that Andy Barr has accomplished in Congress, other than to sit in it.

"But incumbency is an incredibly powerful force," Dugi said. "When members of Congress seek re-election, they generally win at least 90 percent of the time, regardless of how dissatisfied voters say they are with government. Incumbents have better name recognition; they can promote themselves with free mailings thanks to the franking privilege, as Barr certainly did; and they get massive financial support from special-interest groups."

In Washington, Barr is building a reputation as a close ally of banks. From his seat on the House Financial Services Committee, Barr has opposed the Dodd-Frank Act's lending and investment restrictions imposed on banks after the 2008 economic crash. He also has defended the interests of payday lenders and debt collectors as they pushed back against federal regulators who seek to limit their behavior.

The financial sector returned the favor during the 2014 election. The industries that Barr's committee oversees — banks, investments, insurance and real estate — pumped more than $700,000 into his campaign, accounting for 28 percent of the total $2.54 million in donations that he reported as of Sept. 30. One-third of Barr's individual donations came from outside Kentucky, thanks in part to fundraisers he held on Wall Street and in Washington, not even counting the $1.08 million he collected from political action committees.

Explaining his bank-heavy campaign donations in September, Barr said, "You know, I'm not going to apologize for supporting policies that promote the free enterprise system, that promote job creation and that promote healthy capital markets in this country."

Jensen, the Democratic challenger, never came close to matching Barr's fundraising or campaign organization. She reported $850,151 in donations by Sept. 30, about one-third of Barr's total — and $100,000 of that was a personal loan she made to her campaign. Three weeks before the election, nearly half of Jensen's campaign staff abruptly departed.

Although the 6th District offered the only potentially competitive U.S. House race in Kentucky, the state Democratic Party and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee invested little in Jensen's candidacy. The DCCC declined to comment on Jensen last week as it scrambled to protect its own House incumbents.

"Our focus this year ... was on the state House races and the U.S. Senate race," said Daniel Logsdon, chairman of the Kentucky Democratic Party.