FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — The mayor of Kentucky's second-largest city says he is running for Congress, setting up a fierce primary in one of the many GOP districts across the country Democrats think they can win with the help of a Trump backlash.
Jim Gray announced Tuesday he will seek the Democratic nomination in Kentucky's 6th Congressional District.
The district had traditionally been a Democratic seat. But since 1979, it has flipped five times between the two major political parties, most recently when Republican Andy Barr ousted Democrat Ben Chandler in 2012.
Barr won re-election comfortably during President Barack Obama's administration, taking advantage of the former president's unpopularity in Kentucky. But now that Republican Donald Trump is in office, Democrats believe they have a better chance at winning the seat.
Trump's efforts to repeal Obama's health care law have sparked vocal massive protests within the district, including hundreds of hecklers at some of Barr's town hall meetings.
"People are either mad as hell or they are scared as hell. And that shows a real division in the country," Gray said in an interview. "What we need in Washington is adult supervision. We need grown-ups, and that's the kind of experience I bring."
But while Trump might be unpopular in the Lexington area, he won the surrounding counties by a large margin during the 2016 election. Barr has supported Trump's agenda in Congress, including his repeal of the health care law and an overhaul of the tax code.
It appears Barr's campaign will again focus on tying his opponents to the national Democratic party, which has proved to be unpopular in Kentucky.
"All of the Democrat candidates running in this race 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 6th Congressional District," Barr spokesman Rick VanMeter said.
Gray will face at least three other people for the Democratic nomination: former fighter pilot Amy McGrath, state Sen. Reggie Thomas and Geoff Young, a former state employee who has run for the seat twice before.
Of them, McGrath seems to be in the best position to challenge Gray. She has raised more than $800,000, of which she has just over $550,000 in the bank. But McGrath has never run for office before, while Gray is finishing up his second term as mayor of the district's largest city. Plus, he just finished a statewide Senate campaign in 2016. He lost to Republican Rand Paul, but won the 6th Congressional District by 4 percentage points.
"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," McGrath said. "That's the kind of campaign I'm running and that's the kind of representative I'll be."
Gray's announcement means he won't be able to run for a third term as Lexington's mayor, which could create an opening for Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.
Grimes became well known nationally for her unsuccessful 2014 Senate campaign against now-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. She won re-election as secretary of state in 2015, and term limits bar her from seeking a third term. Grimes lives in Lexington.
"Sec. Grimes loves Lexington. It's her home. She's flattered she is being asked to consider the race, but right now, she's focused on her job as Secretary of State," Grimes spokesman Bradford Queen said.