LEXINGTON – Republican Andy Barr upset Democratic U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler in a race that wasn’t nearly as close as their first encounter two years ago.
After losing by 648 votes in 2010, Barr bested Chandler by 11,368 Tuesday, getting 50.6 percent of the vote to Chandler’s 46.7 percent.
Independent candidate Randolph Vance, a convenience store worker who ran a limited campaign, got 8,062 votes for only 2.8 percent.
At his election watch party, Barr told an enthusiastic crowd at the Griffin Gate Marriott that he was “humbled beyond measure.”
When laying out his vision for the country, Barr said he needed support from not only his backers, but also those who voted for Chandler.
“To his supporters and those who cast ballots for Congressman Chandler in this election, please accept my thanks for participating in this important process of democracy,” said Barr, a former deputy general counsel to Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher, who attended Barr’s election watch party with other Republican officials and state legislators.
“I readily acknowledge that there may be some differences that separate us or perhaps we just don’t know each other yet, but I want you to know that while I have strong convictions and principled beliefs, I recognize I don’t always have all the answers, but I invite you to begin a relationship with me, join with me and work with me as we endeavor to solve the great problems we face as a nation.”
Barr’s victory could provide a boost to local Republicans, who lost bids for legislative seats but won two on the nonpartisan City Commission with Robert Roach and Katie Hedden.
Local GOP Chairman Joel Schrader called Barr’s victory “a blessing” and said it would help jumpstart the party’s expansion efforts. Local Republicans will begin planning for the next round of elections a week from Saturday, he said.
“We have two years, and we have everybody in cycle in two years, and that’s going to be our jumping off point,” Schrader said at Barr’s election watch party. “So we’re going to register more Republicans. We’re going to recruit more candidates.
“We expect to start putting those candidates in and raising money. We’re not going to wait until six months out before the election.”
Barr has said he will actively help the Franklin County Republican Party and others in the district, Schrader said.
Barr thanked Chandler for a spirited campaign, which saw both sides spend some $4 million combined, mostly on bitter television advertisements. Barr said Chandler, in a telephone conversation after the race was decided, promised to help with a smooth transition.
“It’s difficult to lose, and I know – I’ve been there,” Barr said to laughter. “And so have my family and my supporters, and we know. We understand how much it hurts and how hard it hits the family, so notwithstanding our serious policy differences, I have never doubted Congressman Chandler’s love for Kentucky.”
President Barack Obama’s negatives played in Barr’s favor, painting Chandler as Obama’s surrogate. University of Kentucky associate political science professor Stephen Voss said before the election that Obama had become Chandler’s “running mate” in the district.
“I’m afraid President Obama was a little too heavy for us in some of the rural counties,” Chandler said Tuesday.
Chandler won Franklin County handily by more than 14 percent with 12,812 votes to Barr’s 9,503, but he lost his home county of Woodford to Barr by 418 votes.
Barr carried all but Franklin and Fayette counties. Stuart Victor, former Franklin County Republican Party chairman, said redistricting the 6th Congressional District to bring in eastern counties with more registered Democrats ultimately failed.
“Many of the counties that were added to this district did not know who Ben Chandler was,” Victor said at the Marriott. “As far as they were concerned, he was a man on the moon, so Andy came into an area that was an equal playing field.”
Barr made contacts with county GOP officials while Chandler depended more on the “Democratic machine,” Victor said.
Tula Prewitt, who volunteered for Barr’s congressional campaigns this year and in 2010, said she was “thrilled to death” with Barr’s victory.
“I knew he’d win this time because people were just put out with Chandler,” Prewitt said. “It’s time for change.”
The Associated Press contributed to this reported.
HOW FRANKLIN COUNTY VOTED
Chandler: 12,812, 55.4%
Barr: 9,503, 41.1%
Vance: 815, 3.5%