Andy Barr to run for rematch against Ben Chandler in 6th congressional district

06/08/2011 11:01 PM

UPDATED: After one of the closest losses in the country last year, Republican Andy Barr will make another run for Kentucky’s 6th congressional district in 2012, Barr confirmed in an interview with Pure Politics late Wednesday.

Barr, a Lexington lawyer, said he will announce his 2012 bid for Congress Thursday in a video message to supporters. He is seeking a rematch against Democratic U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler, who edged Barr by 648 votes in last November’s election.

Barr is announcing his run even before the 6th District’s boundaries are redrawn by state lawmakers as part of the redistricting process. The Central Kentucky district will have to shed territory because it is more than 30,000 people over the target population of about 723,000 for a congressional district.

“It will obviously have to change somewhat,” Barr said. “But I really believe the Central Kentucky region can not be broken up.”

That will be up to legislators over the coming months. But the Republican congressmen who represent districts around the 6th would likely benefit from picking up some of the more conservative counties, while jettisoning more Democratic counties to the 6th District, as illustrated by these example maps here and here.

In the meantime, Barr said he will begin raising money and the laying the groundwork for the 2012 campaign.

And the biggest lesson he said he learned from last year’s race was to work harder to define himself before Chandler does.

“I want to tell the people of Central Kentucky who Andy Barr is and who the Barr family is,” said Barr, who became a father this spring. “In a tough campaign, there was all this noise out there. No one really knew me … That was a mistake not to communicate that.”

Barr, who turns 38 next month, previously served as general counsel in the local government department during former Gov. Ernie Fletcher’s administration. He is a former vice chairman of the Fayette County Republican Party and once served as a legislative aide to former Missouri Congressman Jim Talent.

Barr said the birth of his daughter, Eleanor, this spring reinforced his decision to run.

“Facing the debt our country has right now, she will have fewer opportunities than I had,” Barr said. “That is driving me to do this again.”

On Thursday, Chandler issued a statement titled, “Ben Chandler will fight radical agenda to end Medicare” — a reference to the federal budget plan put forth by Republican House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.

“Next year voters will have a very simple choice to make: whether to protect and save Social Security and Medicare, or to end them,” Chandler’s statement said. “Even though so many hardworking Kentuckians depend on Medicare and Medicaid, Andy Barr admitted this week that he supports ending them.”

Chandler has said since last fall that he would move swiftly to gear up for his 2012 run but that he expected the climate to be more favorable during a presidential election year.

“I think the Republican vote was about as strong this year as it’s ever going to be. I think almost certainly two years from now you’re going to have a stronger Democratic vote,” Chandler said on Pure Politics less than a month after the November 2010 election. “I don’t think there’s been a worse climate for a Democrat in this kind of seat in my lifetime.”

He began stocking up his campaign warchest almost immediately and raised $264,000 in the first three months of 2011.

Chandler, the former attorney general and 2003 gubernatorial candidate, survived the 2010 race after spending $2.59 million compared to Barr’s $1.51 million.

It came down to a recanvass, but Chandler ended up winning his fifth congressional election — and fourth full term. He first won the 6th District in a special election in February 2004.

Starting last August, Chandler used ads to hammer Barr for working as general counsel in former Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher’s administration during the state hiring investigation. Barr, meanwhile, tried to link Chandler to then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, citing some of his votes, such as supporting a cap-and-trade bill in 2009.

Chandler, however, ran an aggressive campaign that took little for granted.

Still, Barr said in the interview that several of Chandler’s recent votes have given him fresh fodder for 2012:

  • Voting for Nancy Pelosi for Speaker in January. . Chandler initially voted for North Carolina Rep. Heath Shuler as the Democratic leader during the 2010 lame duck session of Congress. But when the vote for the House Speaker came to the floor of the U.S. House on Jan. 6, Chandler sided with most of the rest of the Democrats as voting for Pelosi. Nineteen other Democrats chose to pass or vote for someone else.

  • Voting not to repeal the national health care bill* on Jan. 19. Chandler voted with most Democrats against repeal. Only three Democrats joined the Republican majority to repeal the law. At the time, Chandler said he wanted to strike down “many parts of this new law, especially burdens on our struggling small businesses and the cuts to Medicare …” But he said he wanted to keep other parts including, preventing insurance companies from dropping the chronically ill and eliminating lifetime caps on insurance coverage.

  • Voting against the House Republican budget plan for 2011. Chandler voted with much of the rest of his party against $61 billion in cuts contained in one of the 2011 budget bills. Eventually, House Republicans and Senate Democrats agreed on about $40 billion in cuts through the remainder of the 2001 fiscal year.

Chandler most recently voted with the Republicans against President Barack Obama’s request to raise the debt limit from $14.3 trillion to $16.7 trillion. That debt limit must be raised before August or the government risks defaulting on its debt payments.

But House Republican leaders opposed raising the debt limit without corresponding cuts to federal spending.

“I would have voted with him on that,” Barr said of Chandler’s vote last week. “I’m glad he voted that way.”

- Ryan Alessi

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