Heat turns up in U.S. Senate race as Paul, Gray go toe-to-toe on Fancy Farm stage

08/06/2016 06:54 PM

FANCY FARM — U.S. Sen. Rand Paul offered his sharpest rebuke against his Democratic opponent, Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, in questioning his support for national Democrats as well as his handling of a major development project that has made little progress in some eight years.

Gray, the lone statewide Democrat to take the stage, hemmed close to his standard attacks against Paul in his first speech at Fancy Farm, criticizing the junior senator’s failed presidential run while highlighting his experience in both the public and private sectors.

“Jim’s been shopping for a job in politics since 1998,” Paul said. “His plan A is to be paid as the mayor of Lexington despite a gaping hole downtown. His plan B is to run for Senate at the same time. Sounds like a career politician to me.

“Now, people are curious. They wonder how could Mayor Gray have left this gaping hole downtown for nearly a decade? I heard the real reason that the big hole is still there, why he stopped work on the big hole (is) because he heard there was coal in it.”

Gray countered that Kentuckians deserve a senator “who’s focused on their needs” and said Paul focused more on “the cornfields of Iowa and the coffeeshops of New Hampshire” during his presidential campaign.

“This year Kentucky voters have a choice between a lifelong Kentuckian who’s built a family business around creating jobs or a candidate whose family business is all about running for president,” Gray said before unveiling shirts for a faux 2020 presidential campaign with the slogan “Rand Paul is using the people of Kentucky” emblazoned on the back.

While most speakers’ attentions were focused on either the presidential contest or the battle over majority control of the state’s House of Representatives, the back and forth between Paul and Gray ratcheted up the rhetoric in an otherwise sleepy campaign for U.S. Senate.

Paul’s campaign had a handful of supporters don hardhats and take shovels around the grounds of the 136th annual Fancy Farm picnic with signs focused on CentrePointe, a stalled development project that began during Gray’s time as vice mayor but has shown little progress since a block of downtown Lexington was razed in 2008.

Paul, who ran out of time in his speech and was played off the stage with NSync’s “Bye Bye Bye,” joked about Gray’s support for President Barack Obama and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, saying that “the Clintons are to corruption what Capone was to crime” and that her supporters should apologize to Kentucky’s unemployed coal miners.

Other speakers poked fun at Gray as a relative unknown around the state.

Emcee Scott Jennings, a GOP political consultant, feigned surprise at seeing Gray on the Fancy Farm stage and said most of his knowledge of Gray comes from the CentrePointe project.

“He’s spent a lot of time as mayor trying to fill a huge hole somebody dug in the middle of Lexington,” Jennings said.

“But here’s a thought: You may need a place to bury your political career in November.”

The master of ceremonies also razzed Paul’s run for president, saying debate podiums in the Senate race will be “in the center of the stage rather than falling off of the end of it.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called the Democrat one of “a couple of nobodies” on the Fancy Farm stage.

“One Democrat I’m actually surprised to see here is Jim Gray,” McConnell said. “It’s good to see you Jim. We haven’t seen a whole lot of you out on the campaign trail. Maybe Jim’s taking some advice from Democrats at their convention in the Philadelphia. When they weren’t busy ousting their chairwoman or booing during the prayer, you could hear chants at the Democratic convention of, ‘Lock her up.’

“Well, you can’t blame Jim for taking that counsel himself and keeping out of sight. You’d lock yourself away too if this was the kind of left-wing party you had to defend in Kentucky.”

Before launching into his speech, Gray introduced himself to McConnell as “the guy who is going to beat Rand Paul.”

“You know, calling him my opponent just doesn’t feel right because Rand and I both have the same goal: to get him out of the Senate,” Gray said.

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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