Jim Gray hopes to get supporters in Jefferson County, elsewhere to the polls in final push before Election Day

11/05/2016 05:30 PM

LOUISVILLE – As Kentucky’s U.S. Senate race hits its final weekend ahead of Tuesday’s election, Lexington Mayor Jim Gray spent part of his Saturday campaigning in Democrat-rich Jefferson County.

Getting the party faithful to the polls in the Louisville area will be key for Gray’s electoral prospects as he looks to deny Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul a second term in office.

“Every vote counts, and what we’re seeing is a lot of enthusiasm all across the state,” Gray said. “We’re in Louisville today, going to be in Bowling Green this afternoon, back in Louisville. Tomorrow we’re going to be in Richmond, and on Monday we’re going all over the state” in a fly-around with stops planned in Ashland, Pikeville, Louisville, Owensboro, Hopkinsville, Bardstown, Glasgow and Lexington.

“And I may have forgotten a town or two,” he added.

But the enthusiasm he’ll need for a victory in Tuesday’s election wasn’t readily apparent at Louisville Metro Democratic Party headquarters at noon Saturday, where a get-out-the-vote kickoff event had been promoted by Gray’s campaign. Only a handful of staffers and volunteers were on hand, but the campaign said 200 were knocking on doors and phone banking in Jefferson County.

Paul was on his own swing through the state on Saturday, making five stops in eastern Kentucky with another eight planned across the state in a fly-around tour on Monday.

“We’ve already had hundreds of people come out to support Dr. Paul at our stops in Eastern Kentucky today, which are part of our two day, thirteen city swing throughout the entire commonwealth leading up to election day,” Paul spokeswoman Kelsey Cooper said in a statement. “Just as Dr. Paul is the hardest working member of the Senate, he’s also working the hardest all the way to the finish line on Tuesday.”

Gray will hope to outperform his Democratic counterparts in recent federal statewide elections, which state Democrats haven’t won since the late U.S. Sen. Wendell Ford’s last victory in 1992, when he beat former state Senate President David Williams by more than 27 points statewide and carried 65 percent of the Jefferson County vote.

Former Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo came close in 2004, losing to former U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning by 0.6 percent in a year when former President George W. Bush carried the state with nearly 20 percent of the vote. He won Jefferson County with 59.6 percent of the vote that year, which U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry barely claimed with 50.4 percent of the vote to Bush’s 48.9 percent.

When President Barack Obama lost Kentucky by more than 16 points in 2008, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell topped Democrat Bruce Lunsford by 6 percent, but Lunsford won Jefferson County with 55.7 percent of the vote.

The margins in Jefferson County haven’t deviated much from that amount recently, with former Attorney General Jack Conway beating Paul there with 55.6 percent of the vote in 2010 and Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes topping McConnell with 56 percent in 2014.

However, the statewide results have been far more lopsided. Conway lost to Paul by more than 11 points while McConnell beat Grimes by nearly 16 percent in those midterm elections.

Gray acknowledged Jefferson County’s importance for his electoral prospects, calling it “the center of gravity.”

“We know that we’ve got to get a good margin in Jefferson County, but we’re looking for a victory on Tuesday, and we’re looking for performance all over the state,” he said.

“I’m not willing to say we’re giving up on any county in the state because we know we’ve got lots of votes and lots of people who care about this election and who want to see a change, and I would say that they are tired of the wild-ass theories and the ideas and the philosophies that my opponent has brought to Washington.”

Gray will not only have to overcome recent history for Democrats running for Kentucky’s Senate seats, but also a presidential candidate in Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton who is expected to lose the state’s eight electoral votes on Tuesday.

Clinton narrowly won Kentucky’s May 17 Democratic primary against U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders by 0.4 percent after besting Obama by more than 35 points in 2008.

Recent polling shows the race between Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump tightening nationally, which could portend a deepening margin in the presidential race here. Clinton holds a 1.7 percent lead in head-to-head polling against Trump and a 2 point lead in a four-way contest, according to Real Clear Politics.

The site had Clinton with 7 point leads in both head-to-head and four-way polling on Oct. 18.

Gray, chairman of Gray Construction, said he’s supporting his party’s nominee, but he’s not going to tell others how to vote in this year’s presidential election. Rather, he’s going to “encourage the votes and the focus on the Senate race and what we can get done in the U.S. Senate.”

“When you’re in a campaign, you look at it with the glass half full,” Gray said when asked about any concerns he might have with a narrowing polling margin in the presidential race.

“You’re a candidate, and when you’re the candidate, you’re looking for the opportunities to expand you’re base. You’re looking for the opportunities to reach across the aisle and bring others in. I have said many times every Democratic idea’s not a good one, every Republican idea’s not a bad one. I’m willing to listen, and I’m willing to engage everyone.”

Gray’s closing message comes in the form of an ad featuring a bevy of Paul’s “wild-ass theories and philosophies,” as the Democratic challenger said during Monday’s debate on KET’s “Kentucky Tonight,” which opens the final television ad released by the campaign.

While candidates typically close on a more positive summation of their campaigns in the final days, Gray said his message shows that Kentuckians have a choice.

“And they’ve got a choice between a senator who’s all about theories and philosophies and not practical, and I’m a guy who’s practical,” he said.

“I get things done, and I think that’s what the people of Kentucky want. They want a senator who’s focused on Kentucky, serving the citizens of Kentucky, and somebody who gets things done.”

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a Video Journalist for Spectrum News and covers Kentucky politics and all the goings-on at the State Capitol. Kevin was born and raised in Frankfort so he grew up around politics and has always had the drive to follow the political process and hold lawmakers accountable. Before joining Spectrum News Kevin covered government and politics for The State Journal in Frankfort. You can watch Kevin’s work weeknights at 7:00 and 11:30 on Pure Politics, available exclusively on Spectrum News, HD Channels 403 and 715. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135.

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