By Ronnie Ellis / CNHI News Service
It took two tries, but Republican Andy Barr rode discontent with Democratic President Barack Obama and his administration’s environmental policies to a win over incumbent Democratic Congressman Ben Chandler in Kentucky’s 6th District.
Barr got 153,348 votes or 51 percent of the vote while Chandler got 141,496 or 47 percent. Independent Randolph Vance got about 3 percent of the vote. As of press time, Barr had won every county in the district except Fayette County and maybe Chandler’s home county of Woodford. The vote total there was too close to call a winner.
Barr’s big victory means only one Democrat, John Yarmuth of Louisville’s 3rd District, remains in Kentucky’s congressional delegation.
Two years ago, Barr used pretty much the same themes during an election in which Republicans fared well nationally, sweeping to control of the U.S. House of Representatives. But Barr lost by 648 votes.
This time was different. It was supposed to be different for Chandler after the district was re-drawn to include more Democrats and more importantly for Barr, removing reliably Republican precincts in Jessamine, Garrard and Lincoln counties.”
In his victory speech, Barr said when he lost two years ago, he said the people had spoken but he wasn’t sure then exactly what their message was.
“This time the people have spoken and it’s clear what they said,” said an excited, emotional Barr.
He said his cause was greater than his own election, it is “a cause to save our country from bankruptcy and to restore the American dream.”
He commended Chandler for “a very gracious” concession call and said he “never doubted Congressman Chandler’s love for Kentucky.” Barr added that he understood the pain of losing an election and asked supporters to lend their hearts and prayers to Chandler and his family.
He promised to reach out to Democrats and try to represent all the constituents of the 6th District.
“To truly represent everyone, we must reach out and find common ground with our opponents,” Barr said. He promised to represent those who voted for Chandler and said he will be accessible, “and I will represent your concerns.”
Barr ran well in the eastern counties of the district, areas which usually vote Democratic. He won Bath, Fleming, Montgomery, Powell, Robertson and Wolfe counties. Wolfe County went for Democrat Barack Obama for president in 2008 and has ties to the coal industry and Barr made both Obama and coal major issues in the race.
In 2008, Chandler gave his early endorsement to Obama and that infuriated many conservative Kentuckians who have never warmed up to Obama. In his concession speech Tuesday night, Chandler acknowledged Obama’s effect on his race.
“I’m afraid the president was just a little too heavy for us in some of the rural counties,” Chandler said. He said he called Barr and congratulated him and promised “a very smooth transition.”
Romney beat Obama in all of those counties. Two years ago, Chandler won Montgomery, Fleming and Powell — but lost them this time. Chandler also lost each of the Democratic counties which were added to the 6th in re-districting which was thought at the time to benefit Chandler.
Meanwhile, Chandler underperformed in some counties he won. In Democratic Franklin County, Chandler got 12,812 votes but his margin over Barr was only 3,309 votes. Chandler won Fayette County by about 7,300 votes, a margin which might have carried him to a win had he not lost so many of the eastern counties.
Barr attacked Chandler for “devastating” Kentucky’s coal industry and tied him to Obama. In 2009, Chandler voted for a “cap and trade” bill which was vigorously opposed by the coal industry and would have capped carbon emissions. The bill died in the Senate and never became law and Chandler explained his vote as one for provisions of the bill which appropriated money for clean coal technology.
But Barr — and outside Republican groups — ran ads with coal miners who said Chandler and Obama were destroying “their way of life.”
Chandler tried to counter the Barr attacks with his own about Barr and Republican positions on Medicare and Social Security which Chandler claimed would cost seniors as much as $6,000 in extra medical costs and leave them without “retirement with dignity.” He also ran a negative ad about an arrest for a fake identification when Barr was a college student and Barr’s failure to note that arrest on a state government job application.
Chandler lost a race for governor in 2003 to Republican Ernie Fletcher before winning a special election for the seat Fletcher resigned to become governor and he’s never ruled out another run for governor. He seemed to allude to that in his concession speech to supporters Tuesday night.
He said he had always enjoyed his public service and “I don’t know whether that’s over or not.” Quoting his grandfather, A.B. “Happy” Chandler, he said: “I was told a long time go when you dig a dry hole, you don’t stand there and fill it with tears — you just move your digger.”
RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at email@example.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.