FRANKFORT, KY (CNHI) - Jim Gray is staking his run for Congress on a reputation for getting things done, both in private business and as Mayor of Lexington.
The 64-year-old Democrat who grew up in Barren County and then parlayed his success as head of Gray Construction into two terms as Mayor thinks Kentuckians are ready for that approach, especially in the midst of a federal government shutdown as Democrats and Republicans battle over immigration without a spending plan.
"I know both in business and in government you have to work together to find solutions, and that's exactly what I'm going to do," said Gray shortly after filing his candidacy papers with the office of the Kentucky Secretary of State.
Gray is the fifth Democrat to file for the office held by three-term Republican Andy Barr of Lexington. The others are retired Marine Lt. Col. Amy McGrath of Georgetown; state Democratic Sen. Reggie Thomas of Lexington; Theodore Green and Geoff Young, both of Lexington.
The 19-county 6th District stretches from Anderson and Franklin counties in the west to Wolfe, Menifee, Bath and Fleming counties in the east and is as close to a "swing district" as Kentucky has. Barr defeated incumbent Democrat Ben Chandler in 2012 and Republican Ernie Fletcher represented the district prior to Chandler.
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Gray's home base is the largest urban area of the district - Fayette County - and he carried the district narrowly over Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. Rand Paul in the 2016 senatorial election.
But McGrath and Thomas have been running for months as Gray considered the race, and McGrath, a former combat fighter pilot, raised more than $800,000 after a video announcement of her candidacy went viral.
Gray's campaign said he's raised $344,000 since announcing he would run.
Whoever wins the Democratic primary is likely to face a difficult general election against Barr, who will be well-funded and will likely receive outside support from national Republicans hoping to retain the Republican majority in the U.S. House. Barr's campaign has announced for instance that Vice President Mike Pence plans to campaign for Barr.
But the party which controls the White House typically loses seats in a mid-term election and national polls show voters prefer generic Democrats over Republicans when asked their preference for Congress.
Gray isn't the only candidate for office who calls for more bi-partisanship: polls consistently show American voters from all parts of the country want the nation's political leaders to work together to solve problems.
But those in power often define bi-partisanship as the willingness of the other side to compromise. Gray said Monday he understands compromise requires concession by both sides.
"I always believe there is room for compromise," Gray said. "You've got to listen to the other side. You've got to listen to other points of view."
But at the same time, Gray said, "On some issues, yes, you have to be firm and you have to be clear what you're for exactly."
Asked if providing a pathway for citizenship for the so-called "dreamers," those brought to this country as children by illegal immigrant parents and the issue currently holding up a federal spending plan might be such an issue, Gray said it's not "right to split families apart."
But he didn't go so far as to say that would prevent him from voting for a continuing spending plan.
"I'm always hesitant to say that I'm going to have a right point of view on any issue," Gray said. "We need to be flexible."
Barr has previously attacked the Democrats who want to replace him, including Gray, as liberal allies of past president Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. He's also touted his vote for the major tax bill passed without Democratic support.
Gray said the tax cuts represent a transfer of wealth from the middle class to the wealthy.
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