So far this year, just showing up has been a large part of Andy Barr's success.
For example, the Fraternal Order of Police, Bluegrass Lodge No. 4, announced this month it's endorsing Barr for Congress in the Nov. 2 election. Barr, a Republican, satisfied the police by pledging to protect their retirement benefits and collective bargaining rights, said lodge president Mike Sweeney.
Also, his opponent — U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler, D-Versailles — was absent.
"Mr. Chandler did not return our phone calls, did not respond to our questionnaire and did not come in for an interview," Sweeney said, standing with Barr at a news conference. "Andy did all three."
Barr, 37, is a low-profile Lexington lawyer who never sought elected office until now. His previous political experience was serving as counsel to Gov. Ernie Fletcher during the state hiring investigation that got Fletcher and many aides — although not Barr — indicted. Fletcher later issued mass pardons.
But polls show Chandler facing his first serious contest since going to Washington in 2004. Two insider publications, the Cook Political Report and CQ Politics, rate the race as "Leans Democratic" rather than "Solid Democratic" or "Likely Democratic," which is Chandler's usual territory.
Barr had the good fortune to run in a year proving hostile to incumbent Democrats and, given that backdrop, the good sense to build his campaign around not being Ben Chandler.
In speeches, interviews and advertisements, Barr says Chandler is wrong — wrong on the federal stimulus package (a waste, Barr says), wrong on the cap-and-trade plan to curb greenhouse gas emissions (lethal to the coal industry, Barr says) and wrong on earmarked spending in his district (if the projects are worthy, let them go through the open budget process, Barr says).
Chandler says government must spend to stimulate the economy and create jobs. Barr says if government will get out of the way — cut spending, taxes and regulations — the private sector will prosper again.
"What's preventing economic recovery is government policy that creates uncertainty," Barr said in a recent interview. Ticking each point off on his fingers, he cited health-care reform, banking reform and cap-and-trade. "When employers are uncertain about what's coming, they don't hire new employees."
Even when Chandler votes the way Barr would, such as opposing President Barack Obama's health-care reform law in March, Barr says Chandler's heart isn't really in it. Chandler supported procedural motions on the House floor that allowed the final vote to occur, Barr said.
Earlier this summer, the National Republican Congressional Committee branded Barr one of its promising "Young Gun" candidates that could help the GOP retake the House. The NRCC plans to spend at least $362,000 on television commercials for Barr, nearly half as much as his own campaign plans to spend.
Barr impressed Republicans in Washington by crushing five opponents in the GOP primary and raising $811,612 by June 30, said NRCC spokesman Andy Sere.
There's also the lucky happenstance of geography. Kentucky's 6th Congressional District, circling one mid-sized television market (Lexington), is cheaper than many other districts in play, Sere added.
"When you're trying to stretch a dollar as far as it will go, that's a good market," Sere said.
Barr also might benefit from excitement about Rand Paul, the Republican U.S. Senate nominee. This year's Senate race, which Paul leads in most independent polling, is getting a lot of attention. Enthusiastic Republicans going to the polls in Central Kentucky to vote for Paul are likely to vote for Barr as well.
The Barr family is one of Lexington's oldest.
The Barrs arrived not long after the city's founding in the late 18th century. In 1816, a year in which Congress was deeply unpopular and the majority of incumbents were turned out, lawyer Thomas Barr briefly challenged the re-election of Congressman Henry Clay to represent Central Kentucky. (That Barr, believed to be an ancestor, stepped aside in favor of another challenger, John Pope, who lost.)
Andy Barr graduated in 1992 from Henry Clay High School and earned degrees at the University of Virginia and University of Kentucky College of Law. He spent two years in Congress as a legislative assistant to then-U.S. Rep. Jim Talent, R-Mo.
After Ernie Fletcher was elected Kentucky's first Republican governor in a generation, in 2003, Barr joined his administration in Frankfort.
Chandler has seized on Barr's relationship with Fletcher in attack ads.
Barr was not accused of a crime. But he was general counsel for an agency — Local Initiatives for a New Kentucky — that was at the center of the state hiring controversy, in which Fletcher aides vetted job applicants for campaign donations, party affiliation and useful political influence.
Fletcher disbanded LINK, explaining that "some appeared to have been overzealous and too eager to please." Barr moved to the governor's office to serve as deputy general counsel until Fletcher's 2007 defeat at the polls.
Campaigning, Barr promises to be accessible to constituents. He'll show up, he said, criticizing Chandler for not holding town hall meetings or debating him, despite Barr's standing challenge to debate in each of the 6th district's 16 counties.
Chandler, who never has met or spoken to Barr, said he expects their one joint appearance will be a televised "candidate discussion" on Oct. 18 on Kentucky Educational Television. At this time, he said, he sees no reason for further meetings.
Voters are frustrated because arrogant congressmen like Chandler are entrenched in Washington, Barr said. They spend the public's money in back-room deals and 1,000-page bills that nobody reads, and when the public asks for answers, they refuse to provide them, he said.
"The electorate feels that the process is broken," he said. "The American people want accessibility and accountability. A new freshman class would have a chance to reform the institution."
A8 Sunday, September 19, 2010 Lexington Herald-Leader | kentucky.com