Flanked by Democratic allies, Nancy Jo Kemper, a Woodford County minister, filed paperwork Thursday morning to begin her campaign against 6th District U.S. Rep. Andy Barr, R-Lexington.
Kemper, a longtime activist and Lexington native, said she intends to run a grassroots, issues-based campaign, and she thinks she can raise enough money to be competitive against Barr.
“I wouldn’t be in this if I did not think I could do this and win,” Kemper said. “I think that I’ve got the passion, the fire and, I hope, the support of a lot of people to move it forward and to win this seat back for Democrats.”
Kemper cited a number of reasons for running, including finding jobs for Kentuckians, raising the minimum wage and protecting affordable health insurance.
“Voting 62 times against the Affordable Care Act has not helped Kentuckians get and keep the insurance they need,” she said of Barr.
In a statement, Barr spokesman Rick VanMeter said “there will be time for politics next fall after the Democrats choose their nominee.”
Kemper said she sees a need for “citizen legislators, people who represent the average person.”
Kemper, who is a grandmother and was a single mother for a time, said she knows “how to stretch a dollar.”
“I know what it is to want things for your children and not be able to afford them,” Kemper said.
Kemper, a former executive director of the Kentucky Council of Churches, also spoke out against “the obscene amount of money in politics,” noting Barr’s prolific fundraising.
“I don’t have any money,” she said. “I don’t have to do this. I’m running because I think that things need to be said and people need to be listened to. They need to feel like their government is working for them.”
Barr won his last race over Democrat Elisabeth Jensen by 20 percentage points, but Kemper said she saw hope for a Democrat in the results of last year’s gubernatorial race, when Democrat Jack Conway narrowly defeated Republican Matt Bevin in precincts in the 6th Congressional District, although he lost by a landslide statewide.
“I think there’s a clear path forward for a good candidate who gets out there and meets the people, a people’s campaign, if you will, that addresses their needs and their concerns and clearly is not in the pockets of the big financial institutions and insurance companies that have contributed to Congressman Barr’s campaign in the past,” Kemper said.
Former Lt. Gov. Crit Luallen, a longtime friend of Kemper, acknowledged that the odds favor Barr, but Luallen said she thinks Kemper will offer “a campaign message based on thoughtful discussion of policy and not on negative personal attacks, and I think we need that.”
“I think she can win,” Luallen told the Herald-Leader. “I think it’s a difficult race with a strong incumbent, but Nancy Jo Kemper brings a fresh voice and a completely different kind of candidate to the arena.”
Luallen, along with state Sen. Reggie Thomas, state Rep. Susan Westrom and Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, were on hand to witness Kemper’s filing.
Jermaine House, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in a statement later Thursday that “Nancy Jo's commitment to the community will stand in stark contrast to Congressman Barr, who has a record of contributing to Washington's dysfunction.”
Kemper lamented the “hostility” in modern politics, calling it “destructive to the quality of American life,” and she pledged not to run a negative campaign.
“I definitely will not run an ugly campaign,” she said. “I’ll run against his record, but I’m certainly hopeful that we can keep this aboveboard and nice and polite and as respectful as it ought to be.”
Kemper said she has been in touch with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and that the Washington, D.C., campaign group has been helpful already in offering advice.
Kemper, 73, is a graduate of Transylvania University and the Yale University Divinity School.
According to a biography sheet provided to reporters, she has been active through a part-time ministry in Woodford County for the past six years.
While gadfly Geoff Young and Lexington attorney Michael Coblenz also have filed to run for the seat — Coblenz filed shortly after Kemper did — Kemper said she doesn’t anticipate more primary challenges. Young and Coblenz have both previously sought the Democratic nomination without success.
The filing deadline is Jan. 26.