Lexington Mayor Jim Gray is seeking the Democratic nomination in the 6th Congressional District, launching his campaign in several counties throughout the central Kentucky district on Tuesday.
He enters a primary field with Amy McGrath, a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Marines; Reggie Thomas, a state senator from Lexington; and perennial candidate Geoff Young.
The four are vying to take on U.S. Rep. Andy Barr, a Republican who has held the seat since 2012.
Gray, who has served as Lexington’s mayor since 2010 and unsuccessfully challenged U.S. Sen. Rand Paul in 2016, said he’s running “because too many people are working harder but not getting ahead.”
“From growing up in a middle class family, to building a successful business, I’ve been lucky enough to live the American Dream,” Gray said in a statement. “But today, the American Dream is threatened, it’s in trouble. Healthcare costs are rising. The price of a good education is as high as ever. Wages aren’t growing fast enough to keep up. And Washington is too broken to solve these problems because of partisan politicians like Andy Barr who vote the way their party tells them, not the way that’s best for Kentucky.
“We need more leaders in Congress who are willing to bring people together to solve problems and protect the American Dream for all hardworking Kentuckians. That’s what I’ve done as Mayor, and that’s what I’ll do in Congress.”
Gray, the first openly gay candidate to seek statewide office in Kentucky history, lost to Paul by 14.5 points in 2016, but he carried the 6th Congressional District with 52.1 percent of the vote to Paul’s 47.9 percent.
He also has significant personal wealth he can toss into the race. He loaned his U.S. Senate campaign $2.5 million in the losing effort.
So far, McGrath has paced fundraising in the primary. As of Sept. 30, she reported raising $807,125 with $551,550 left on hand. Thomas has raised $147,034 with $78,294 left on hand in the same time period, according to Federal Election Commission data.
Thomas’ campaign manager, Leo Haggerty, said his candidate will stay in the race and that after hearing back-and-forth rumors about Gray’s decision, he’s not surprised to see the Lexington mayor launch a campaign.
“We believe a competitive Democratic primary is good for the party and will make Reggie a stronger candidate when he faces Andy Barr next November,” Haggerty said in a statement. “We have spent the last six months building a Kentucky based grass roots movement that we believe will positions Reggie as the strongest candidate to bear Andy Barr.”
McGrath said she respects Gray’s public service but that she’s “focused on my mission.”
“Too many Kentuckians are feeling left behind and the establishment politics of yesterday isn’t working,” McGrath said in a statement. “It’s why I’m honored that over 13,000 small dollar donors have placed their faith in our shared mission. We need to rebuild the Democratic Party and make sure it stands for people from every walk of life, no matter where you live in Kentucky.
“I may not be a big city mayor, but I know we need someone who will fight for people in every city, town and county in this district. That’s the kind of campaign I’m running and that’s the kind of representative I’ll be.”
Barr campaign spokesman Rick VanMeter did not single out Gray, but he said the Democrats running in the 2018 primary “support the extreme liberal Obama-Clinton-Pelosi agenda of more taxes, more regulations, and more government control, which has been repeatedly and overwhelmingly rejected by voters of the Sixth Congressional District.”
“Congressman Barr is not focused on the growing divisions and dysfunction within the Democratic party,” VanMeter said in a statement. “ Instead, he remains focused on doing the job he was elected to do, keeping his promises and delivering a big tax cut for hard working Kentuckians so that they can keep more of their paychecks, achieve the life they want and provide for their family’s future.”
Gray has scheduled stops in Berea, Richmond, Irvine, Clay City, Stanton and Campton on Tuesday, and his campaign says he plans to visit all 19 counties in the district this week.