FRANKFORT, Ky. — Elected to Congress six years ago with the help of an unpopular president in a swing district, Republican U.S. Rep. Andy Barr is hoping to avoid a backlash of his own in 2018 as Democrats target him in a race that could help determine control of the House.
Barr launched his campaign Thursday, filing paperwork to run for re-election and speaking with reporters at the state Republican Party headquarters in Frankfort.
Since ousting Democratic incumbent Ben Chandler in 2012, Barr has advocated for repealing most of Barack Obama’s legacy, including the financial restrictions put in place after the Great Recession and the health care law that added half a million people to Kentucky’s insurance rolls while increasing costs for taxpayers.
But things have changed since then. Republican Donald Trump was elected president, and hundreds of people started packing Barr’s town hall meetings asking him to vote against repealing the health care law and other Trump policy items. But Barr voted for them anyway, saying it’s what his district has consistently elected him to do.
Now, he is facing at least five Democratic challengers, including Jim Gray, the popular two-term mayor of Kentucky’s second-largest city, and Amy McGrath, a former Marine fighter pilot who has raised more than $800,000.
“Let’s face it, a lot of energy and enthusiasm on the left is reminiscent to the enthusiasm on the right in 2009 and 2010,” Barr said. “It has more to do with the left’s interest in the president and less about me. … The agenda I’m working on is the agenda that the people of the 6th District voted for repeatedly over last several cycles, and we’re in the business of keeping our promises and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Barr emphasized his role in crafting the recently approved tax bill, which includes temporary tax cuts for most Americans that expire in 2025. Barr said he plans to introduce legislation that will make those tax cuts permanent, like the cuts for businesses and wealthy Americans. And he noted the law includes tax breaks for the state’s horse and bourbon industries, both cultural and economic powerhouses in Kentucky.
“Make no mistake, anyone who opposes this tax cut bill opposes supporting the signature industries of the 6th Congressional District,” Barr said.
Gray, who opposes the tax law, called it an “absolute giveaway to the rich and corporations while exploding our national debt and raising taxes on the middle class over time.”
One entity hurt by the tax bill was Berea College, a small private school that does not charge tuition because it only accepts students who can’t afford to pay. The bill would place a 1.4 percent tax on the school’s endowment, which officials say will force them to accept fewer students.
Barr blamed the tax on Senate Democrats, who refused to suspend the Senate’s procedural rules so the bill could include an exemption for Berea College. Barr said Congress will restore the exemption soon. But he said it wasn’t enough for him to vote against the bill when it came back to the House for final passage.
“This was a giant step forward that certainly warranted a ‘yes’ vote at the time,” Barr said. “We will come back and clean up some other things, and particularly my priority is to make sure Berea College is held harmless.”
Kentucky’s 6th Congressional District had traditionally been a Democratic seat, but since 1979 it has flipped five times among the two major political parties. That’s why Democrats are confident they can win the seat again in November.
“With Barr, it’s always party before country and his wealthy donors get to feast on legislation, leaving the rest of us to fight over the scraps they leave behind,” said Mark Nickolas, McGrath’s campaign manager. “It’s long past time for a new generation of leaders who have experience at putting the country first and making sure our government stands for people from every walk of life, no matter where they live or how much they make.”
This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Mark Nickolas’ name.