By RONNIE ELLIS / CNHI News Service
LEXINGTON — Ben Chandler and other central Kentucky Democrats gathered here Saturday morning to engage in “a near spiritual experience,” to walk neighborhoods and urge supporters to go to the polls Tuesday and vote Democratic.
Chandler is in another dogfight with Republican challenger Andy Barr to keep his 6th Congressional District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Two years ago, Chandler barely held off a late-charging Barr by 648 votes.
Not much has changed in two years. Barr’s campaign seems to be closing fast and continues to hammer Chandler on a vote for a “cap and trade” energy bill which didn’t get out of Congress and which Chandler said included money for clean coal technology and research which would have benefited the Kentucky coal industry.
Barr claims the bill would have cost thousands of jobs and blames Chandler and President Barack Obama for about 2,000 lost mining jobs in eastern Kentucky.
Chandler called that charge “ridiculous,” saying Barr and outside Republican groups have run television ads that “have just lied” and mischaracterized both his vote and the bill. Even coal market analysts, Chandler pointed out, blame the mild winter and competition from cheap natural gas for falling coal prices rather than environmental policies.
He said his vote to bail out the automobile industry is the one that most affected Kentucky, which has 70,000 auto jobs, at least 8,000 of those in Scott County alone at Toyota.
“What was more important was for the auto industry to be rescued,” Chandler said Saturday. “And (Barr) was against that. This is an industry that is absolutely crucial to people right here. There are 70,000 auto industry jobs right here in Kentucky and my opponent opposed the rescue of that industry.”
Fayette County PVA David O’Neill told the crowd of around 100 supporters Republican negative advertising is an attempt to “drive down the vote” and urged them to get out the vote by taking to the streets and knocking on doors in “a near spiritual experience.”
O’Neill was followed by a line of Democratic candidates for the state legislature who one after another accused Republicans of negative attacks and outright lies.
State Sen. Kathy Stein, D-Lexington, said Republicans are running ads containing false information about two Fayette County state representative, Ruth Ann Palumbo and Susan Westrom, both of whom are thought to be in tight races against Republican opponents.
“But you can’t lie about our friends,” Stein said, “and we’re going to win.
Former University of Kentucky basketball coach Joe B. Hall told the crowd he is a life-long Democrat and recalled the contributions of Chandler’s family to Kentucky, invoking the memory of Ben Chandler’s grandfather, former governor and U.S. Senator A.B. “Happy” Chandler.
“It brought tears to my eyes” to hear Happy Chandler sing My Old Kentucky Home, Hall said, and “I can’t say enough good things about Ben Chandler.”
As for Barr, Hall said, “I don’t know this Barr guy and I don’t think you know him.”
Former governor and now state Sen. Julian Carroll, D-Frankfort, told the crowd it isn’t so important for whom they vote for president – a response to Republican efforts to tie all Democratic candidates and especially Chandler to Obama who remains unpopular in Kentucky.
“But we need these local Democrats in the legislature and we need Ben Chandler,” Carroll said or Republicans will continue their assault on the middle class and programs for the elderly and for education.
That set the stage for Chandler, who said Barr and Republicans would support a budget that creates a society of “every man for himself.”
“Now is that the kind of country we want?” Chandler asked the crowd. He said the Democratic Party “truly believes we are all in this together. This country has been built on a strong and broad middle class.”
He said Barr and Republicans would destroy or diminish Medicare and Social Security, programs he said which represent the difference for senior citizens “between retiring with dignity and going straight to the poor house.”
Chandler said “nothing less than the health of the middle class, nothing less than the health of our nation is at stake” in Tuesday’s election.
He said he expects a close election and the key to winning is for a strong vote margin in Fayette County.
“The whole key to this, folks, is who shows up on Tuesday,” Chandler said. “If we show up, there isn’t any doubt we’re going to win this election. So, it’s in your hands.”
Chandler will be joined on a final bus tour Monday by Gov. Steve Beshear and some statewide constitutional officers in a final get out the vote push.
RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.