Resumes playing crucial role in 6th District primary
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — With marginal policy differences among them, the leading contenders for a Kentucky congressional seat Democrats think is within reach have emphasized their resumes instead.
One is a successful businessman who became mayor and another is a former military fighter pilot. A third candidate is an experienced lawmaker with an Ivy League background and a liberal pedigree.
Credentials are playing a key role as Jim Gray, Amy McGrath and Reggie Thomas compete in the 6th District, stretching from the Appalachian foothills to the bluegrass.
McGrath, Gray and Thomas are among six candidates vying for the Democratic nomination in the May 22 primary in what is widely considered the most vulnerable GOP congressional seat in Kentucky this year. McGrath and Gray have a big primary fundraising advantage.
The seat — which for decades has swung between Republicans and Democrats — is held by U.S. Rep. Andy Barr. The conservative Republican won the job in 2012 and has joined the GOP push to dismantle much of former President Barack Obama’s legacy.
In his pitch to voters, Gray, Lexington’s first openly gay mayor, stresses his experience in dealing with budgets, pensions, job creation, gun violence and the drug epidemic. He also touts his role in building his family’s construction company into a global enterprise.
“It is time for adult supervision in Washington,” the 64-year-old told supporters at a recent rally in Lexington. “It is time for the amateur hour to be over.”
McGrath announced her campaign last year in an online video showing her standing in front of a fighter jet wearing a bomber jacket. She continues to play up her military career, which ended in 2017 when she retired from the Marine Corps as a lieutenant colonel who had flown 89 combat missions, including bombings targeting al-Qaida and the Taliban.
McGrath, 42, says the military honed her skills as a leader and team player.
“We all worked on a mission together for this country,” she said while opening a campaign office in Versailles. “That’s the kind of leader I want to be in the U.S. Congress. Because folks, we need better leaders. And we need a new generation of leaders.”
Both candidates have gained supporters by touting their backgrounds.
“She just kind of won my heart,” Karen Dayley of Versailles said at McGrath’s opening. “And she inspires my (11-year-old) daughter. ... And if it inspires her, it inspires me.”
Gray supporter Joe Fields of Lexington said: “He’s got a good record as a great mayor here. He gets down to business and gets it done.”
The candidates say the country has been led astray by President Donald Trump and the Republican Congress. Trump easily carried the 19-county district in 2016, while Gray narrowly won it in his losing campaign against Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul the same year.
Thomas, 64, a graduate of Dartmouth and Harvard Law School, teaches criminal justice and business law at Kentucky State University. He represents a Lexington district in the Legislature, and has pitched a liberal agenda on health care, infrastructure and other issues in his congressional campaign.
“I’ve been the one who’s been the leader ... on the changes that we need to see made in this country,” he said.
He supports a plan to expand Medicare coverage to all Americans.
“We have to recognize that if we don’t do something soon, we’re going to bankrupt America,” Thomas said. “I want to bring a single-payer health care system to this country so that everybody can access and get affordable health care.”
Gray and McGrath back the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, but say they would try to improve it. Barr supports repealing the law.
McGrath favors a public health insurance option as part of the Affordable Care Act and supports expanded access to Medicare to people 55 and older. Gray has touted efforts to lower health insurance premiums.
All three top-tier Democrats support raising the minimum wage and have called for expanded background checks for gun buyers.
Karen Conley, a Thomas supporter in Bourbon County, said he has the “courage” to push to get military-style assault weapons “off of our streets.” Thomas has advocated a buyback program for owners of military-style weapons to get those guns “out of the public domain.”
In the weeks leading up to the primary, both Gray and McGrath had already raised more than $1 million apiece in campaign funds.
At a recent debate, Thomas took on McGrath for taking up residency in the district just last year, saying he heard some voters refer to her as a “carpet-bagger.”
McGrath, who grew up in Kenton County in northern Kentucky, said serving in the military meant moving around a lot.
“I’m as much of a Kentuckian as anybody here,” she said in an interview.
Gray, who has lived half his life in the district, said the residency issue matters.
“It’s certainly important that you have roots in a district and you have some familiarity with the issues that are affecting people,” he said. “And that takes time.”
Other Democrats in the race are Geoff Young, Theodore David Green and Daniel Kemph. Chuck Eddy is challenging Barr in the Republican primary.