- Associated Press - Thursday, October 27, 2016

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - After years of demoralizing losses in federal elections, Kentucky Democrats are left with little-known candidates to run in congressional districts long dominated by Republicans, and they skipped two races altogether.

But in one district, a Democratic challenger is waging a spirited, uphill fight to unseat a GOP incumbent Nov. 8. The 6th District contest pitting two-term Republican U.S. Rep. Andy Barr against Democrat Nancy Jo Kemper is big on contrasts.

Kemper, who trails Barr in campaign fundraising by nearly 6 to 1, portrays the incumbent as a political insider who’s cozy with big banks and corporations. She contrasts that with her own experiences: “I’ve been a single mom. I know what it is to have to live payday to payday.”

Barr touts his conservative credentials and his role in putting a GOP imprint on such policies as health care, financial oversight and anti-poverty initiatives. He links his challenger to what he condemns as the failed policies of President Barack Obama.

“There’s not any other reason to run for public office than to want to make a difference,” he said. “And I feel like I can continue to do that.”

It’s the most bruising fight in a year when Kentucky’s congressional races took a back seat to other state and federal campaigns.

Republicans hold four U.S. House seats and are heavily favored to retain a fifth that became vacant when longtime GOP Rep. Ed Whitfield resigned. Republican Reps. Harold “Hal” Rogers in the 5th District and Brett Guthrie in the 2nd District drew no Democratic challengers.

Another Republican congressman, Thomas Massie, faces Democrat Calvin Sidle in the staunchly conservative 4th District.

The race for the open 1st District seat features Republican James Comer, a former state agriculture commissioner who narrowly lost his bid for the GOP gubernatorial nomination in 2015, and Democrat Samuel Gaskins. They appear on ballots twice - to complete Whitfield’s term and to fill the new term starting in January, which will give the winner a head start on seniority. There’s also a write-in candidate, Terry McIntosh.

Kentucky’s lone Democratic-held seat is in the Louisville-area 3rd District, where Rep. John Yarmuth is challenged by Republican Harold Bratcher and Forefathers Party nominee Everett Corley.

In the 6th District, a mix of urban and rural areas that includes Lexington, Barr and Kemper have openly touted their differences.

Kemper, 74, is pastor at New Union Christian Church in Woodford County and served for years as executive director of the Kentucky Council of Churches. She has generally embraced Obama’s policies at home and abroad and enthusiastically supports her party’s top-of-the-ticket nominee.

“We have not had a better-prepared person to be president and commander in chief in some time than Hillary Clinton,” she said when the 6th District candidates met for a televised debate Monday night.

Barr, 43, who unseated Democratic incumbent Ben Chandler in 2012 and cruised to re-election in 2014, has spent the past four years working to undo the health care overhaul championed by Obama and the Dodd-Frank financial regulations passed after the 2008 financial crisis.

“Americans are stuck in the slowest, weakest economic recovery of their lifetimes,” he said at the same debate hosted by KET.

Barr avoided mentioning Donald Trump by name at the debate, but said the GOP presidential ticket supports an agenda that would restore national security. But Barr has tried to keep his distance from Trump, partly because of the presidential candidate’s 2005 hot-microphone boasts about groping women that came to light late in the campaign.

“The gutter talk from Mr. Trump is obnoxious, it’s offensive, it’s totally indefensible,” Barr said in an interview.

But Barr said he would vote for Trump, pointing to Trump’s willingness to support the House GOP agenda.

The congressman bluntly calls Clinton unfit to be commander in chief. Kemper counters that Trump is unfit to lead the nation, and says Barr’s willingness to vote for Trump shows “he’s a tea party guy from start to finish.”

The campaign took on an edgier tone when Barr aired a TV commercial that spliced Kemper’s positive comments about the economy with a video of ISIS soldiers. Kemper called the ad dishonest, saying her words from a TV interview were taken out of context. Barr has defended it.

“One of the principal problems that is wrong with Washington is the fundamental kind of dishonesty that this represents,” she said.

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