MOUNT STERLING, Ky. (AP) — At risk of losing his seat in a district President Donald Trump won by double digits in 2016, Republican U.S. Rep. Andy Barr implored voters Monday to send him back to Washington because he has "access and influence with this administration."
But the retired Marine fighter pilot seeking to replace him said she was more interested having "the courage to check the president," saying her election would send a message "about who we are and the type of leaders we want in our country."
Andy Barr's battle with Democrat Amy McGrath in one of the nation's most closely watched congressional races highlights a slate of important elections Tuesday in Kentucky, where Trump won by nearly 30 percentage points two years ago. Voters across the state will decide whether to amend Kentucky's Constitution to give rights to crime victims; choose which party will control the state House of Representatives heading into a contentious 2019 governor's race; and decide whether to re-elect a rural county clerk whose opposition to same-sex marriage landed her in jail in 2015 for refusing to issue marriage licenses.
But the expensive race in Kentucky's 6th Congressional district has gotten the national attention. Both political parties believe it's one of a handful of key races that could determine control of Congress for the remainder of Trump's first term.
McGrath has raised nearly twice as much money as Barr, using it to build an impressive get-out-the vote operation with field offices in all 19 counties and hundreds of volunteers knocking on doors. Barr has run a more traditional campaign, focusing heavily on negative TV ads and large rallies featuring Trump and his allies. Monday, Barr campaigned with Donald Trump Jr. and former Fox News host Kimberly Guilfoyle as they sought to jumpstart sluggish GOP voters.
"We're fat and happy. We've gotten everything we wanted so far," Trump Jr. told the crowd. "There's still a lot left to be done."
Barr vowed to support President Trump's policies, including building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. But he focused much of his speech on the country's improving economy, calling it the result of Republican efforts in Washington. That resonated with Dennis Heck, a 60-year-old retiree who said the investments he relies on have "skyrocketed" since Trump took office. If Democrats take control of Congress, he said, "I'm afraid it will slow down."
As threats of violence have disrupted campaigns this election and prompted calls for more civility, Barr also portrayed himself as a bipartisan deal maker who would support Democrat and Republican ideas "as long as it's in the best interests of my constituents."
But his comments were overshadowed by the rallying cries of Trump Jr. and Guilfoyle, who urged voters to not let the "liberal crazies" take over. Guilfoyle told the crowd she has a "hit list" that includes Democrats Nancy Pelosi, Maxine Waters, Chuck Schumer and Cory Booker. Waters and Booker's offices were targeted by pipe bombs sent in the mail.
In Lexington, McGrath spoke to a few dozen supporters who were preparing to knock on doors and ask people to vote for her. Kim Human, a 62-year-old self-employed business consultant, said she's voting for McGrath because "I think that she brings a fresh perspective to a really bad political situation in our country."
Democrats hope McGrath's campaign, which has raised nearly $8 million, will boost Democratic candidates running for state legislative seats. Those candidates include at least 36 current or former teachers, most of them Democrats, who are upset with changes to the state pension system enacted by Republican Gov. Matt Bevin and the GOP-dominated legislature.
In Rowan County, voters will decide whether to re-elect County Clerk Kim Davis, who was jailed in 2015 for refusing to issue marriage licenses after the U.S. Supreme Court effectively legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. She faces Democrat Elwood Caudill Jr., who has downplayed the controversy while promising to treat everyone equally if he is elected.
And voters statewide will be asked to change Kentucky's Constitution to guarantee rights for crime victims. But the results of that election will be on hold, as a state judge has ruled the ballot question is too vague. The case won't be resolved until after the election. Votes will still count, but election officials won't certify the results until the case is finished.