Lexington Mayor Jim Gray wants to put a Democrat back in Kentucky’s 6th Congressional District.
The openly gay politician announced on Tuesday that he’s running to unseat Republican Rep. Andy Barr, who was elected in 2013. Although Kentucky is a staunchly conservative state, the once-liberal district has flip-flopped between the left and the right in recent years. Prior to Barr holding the seat, Democrat Ben Chandler represented the districtwhich also includes Frankfort and Richmondfor nine years.
But Gray vowed to unite legislators across party lines if voted into the House of Representatives next year.
“We need more leaders in Congress who are willing to bring people together to solve problems and protect the American dream for all hardworking Kentuckians,” he said in a statement to media. “That’s what I’ve done as mayor, and that’s what I’ll do in Congress.”
If elected, the two-term mayor’s victory would mark a first for the Bluegrass State: Kentucky has never tapped an openly LGBTQ politician to sit in Congress. Gray ran against Sen. Rand Paul in 2016, and in doing so, he became Kentucky’s first gay man to compete for a seat in the national legislature. But the Republican incumbent walloped himwinning by nearly 15 points.
This time around Gray will also compete with Amy McGrath, a former fighter pilot in the Marine corps, and Reggie Thomas, an African-American state Senator.
McGrath’s campaign gained traction in August when the outsider candidate’s announcement video went viral. In the two-minute clip, the veteran discusses her childhood dreams of serving in the Air Force, as well a letter she received as a young girl from Sen. Mitch McConnell claiming that “women ought to be protected and not allowed to serve in combat.”
After serving for 20 years, she says her mission is to take down Barr, whom she calls “McConnell’s hand-picked congressman.”
Gray may face an unexpected uphill battle in McGrath. In addition to being interviewed on Chelsea Handler’s Netflix show, she has been endorsed by Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), who has been pushing an early recruitment effort for the nontraditional candidate. Thus far, McGrath has raised over $800,000.
Should any of Barr’s challengers win election next November, it would be a milestone for Kentucky. The 6th District has never had a person of color or a woman in the seat.
But in his announcement speech, Gray said it’s his record that makes him the best candidate for the job. He vowed to tackle healthcare, education, and economic inequality, blaming years of Republican representation for the widening gap between rich and poor.
“Healthcare costs are rising,” Gray claimed in a televised speech. “The price of a good education is as high as ever. Wages aren’t growing fast enough to keep up. And Washington is too broken to solve these problems because of partisan politicians like Andy Barr who vote the way their party tells them, not the way that’s best for Kentucky.”
Gray, who ran his family’s construction business prior to his political career, came out in 2005. The 64-year-old served as the Vice Mayor for four years before receiving a promotion in 2010. He was last re-elected to the mayor’s office three years ago.