Sen. Paul Draws Opponent

Jan. 28, 2016 — With the clock running down to just hours for Democrats to find a credible opponent for Sen. Rand Paul (R), Lexington Mayor Jim Gray (D) submitted his candidate declaration papers Tuesday and will be placed on the May 17 Democratic primary ballot.

Mayor Gray, who runs the second largest city-county consolidated government region in the state, had been a national recruitment target ever since former Gov. Steve Beshear (D) and Louisville Metro Mayor Greg Fischer (D) declined to run. Though six other Democrats had already become senatorial candidates, none can be considered major contenders, thus Gray begins the race with the inside track for the party nomination. Though starting from scratch, Gray could be in position to give Paul serious competition should the latter’s presidential campaign become a debacle.

Originally expected to be one of the major contenders in at least the Iowa Caucuses, Sen. Paul will likely finish in the lower tier in Monday’s first presidential vote, with not much better prospects for New Hampshire. The Kentucky presidential caucus, changed from a primary to allow Paul to simultaneously run for president and Senate, will be held March 5. The senator needs a good showing in his home state to remain alive in the presidential contest, and to shore up his internal base for a re-election campaign.

Jim Gray was elected Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government Mayor in 2010, defeating incumbent Jim Newberry. Gray ran to the right of Newberry regarding spending for the local airport and in opposition to water rate hikes. He framed his issue positions from his perch as the city’s vice mayor, winning that office because he was the highest 2006 vote-getter for one of three at-large city council seats. The mayor has concentrated on reducing government spending, making public operations more efficient, developing government-private sector alliances, and solving the metro public employee pension problem.

In all, Gray has achieved success in office, meaning he will have the credibility to draw a contrast with Paul’s first term, in which the incumbent devoted much time and attention toward running for president. Kentucky’s strong history of voting Republican at the presidential level (and the state will not be a Democratic target this year) should greatly help Paul create a positive atmosphere for re-election. Still, despite this late-breaking candidacy, it appears the Democrats have found a standard bearer who will be much more than a simple name on the ballot in the statewide Senate contest.

Five of the six Kentucky congressional incumbents are seeking re-election, and none have drawn serious opposition. Four-term Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-Bowling Green), in fact, is unopposed for both the primary and general election.

The open 1st District is lining up as expected with former Agriculture Secretary James Comer (R) cast as the odds-on favorite to replace retiring Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Hopkinsville). Comer lost the 2015 Republican governor’s nomination to the eventual general election victor, businessman Matt Bevin, by a mere 83 votes statewide. For Congress, Comer faces three Republican opponents including Hickman County Attorney Jason Batts, and former Whitfield congressional aide Michael Pape. Democrats filed only nominal candidates.

House Appropriations Committee chairman Hal Rogers (R-Somerset) drew only Republican insurance agent John Burk, Jr. as competition. No Democrat filed in this district. Two-term Rep. Andy Barr (R-Lexington) has only minor Republican and Democratic opposition.

Representatives John Yarmuth (D-Louisville) and Thomas Massie (R-Garrison) have no primary opposition and will face only minor general election opponents in their 3rd and 4th Districts, respectively.

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