- Associated Press - Friday, April 22, 2016

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Democratic Senate hopeful Jim Gray, whose hefty loan put his campaign on even financial footing with Republican Sen. Rand Paul, has dipped into his account for his first big ad buy.

Gray, the Lexington mayor, went on the air Friday with a 30-second TV ad touting his business experience in building a construction company with yearly sales topping $1 billion.

The ad, introducing the big-city mayor to a statewide audience, features Gray and his brother, Howard. Howard Gray credits his brother with coming home from college to help “save the family business” after their father died.

Howard Gray says that Congress would benefit from his brother’s “business sense.”

Gray faces six other candidates in the Democratic Senate primary on May 17.

Paul, who made an unsuccessful bid for the GOP presidential nomination this year, is seeking a second Senate term in November.

Campaign-finance reports showed both Paul and Gray had $1.5 million on hand at the end of March. Gray’s campaign account was bolstered by his $1 million loan to his campaign.

Gray’s campaign, however, said the mayor outraised Paul in the first three months of the year, calling it “a significant upset” for the one-time presidential candidate.

Cathy Lindsey, a Gray campaign spokeswoman, said Friday that Paul is struggling to “regain traction” in the state following his failed presidential bid.

Paul’s campaign said it expects its fundraising to gain momentum in coming months.

“We are extremely confident in our campaign’s fundraising abilities and look forward to continuing to raise the necessary funds to match or exceed any of our potential Democrat opponents,” said Paul campaign spokeswoman Kelsey Cooper.

Conservative groups also are expected to spend heavily in support of Paul’s campaign.

University of Kentucky political scientist Stephen Voss said it’s no surprise that Gray is competitive with Paul in fundraising at this point in the campaign. He said Paul tapped contributors to support his presidential bid, which ended in early February.

“So it makes sense that he’s going to be slow to be able to draw in even more money for the Senate race,” Voss said. “I would expect it to get a little easier for Rand Paul from here on out because the presidential race is fading in the rear-view mirror.”

Also, Gray brought “ample personal resources” to the Senate campaign, putting him in position to “go toe-to-toe” with Paul if he advances to the fall campaign, he said.

Gray made history in 2010 when he was elected Kentucky’s first openly gay mayor.

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