Two years after losing to Democratic Rep. Ben Chandler by just 647 votes, Republican attorney Andy Barr got his revenge in Kentucky’s 6th District. Barr’s hard-fought victory came despite redistricting that was intended to benefit Chandler, and underscored how successful Republican candidates could be in red states if they made President Obama the focus of their race.
Barr grew up in Lexington and graduated from the University of Virginia with a bachelor’s degree in government and philosophy. After two years as a legislative assistant for then-Rep. Jim Talent, R-Mo., Barr returned to his hometown to earn a law degree from the University of Kentucky. Since then, he has practiced law as well as taught constitutional law and administrative law as a part-time instructor at Morehead State University.
Barr also served as a deputy general counsel to former Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher, whose tenure was marred by a scandal over the hiring, promoting, and firing of state employees based on their political loyalties. Barr himself was not charged or accused of criminal wrongdoing. In running in 2010 against Chandler, Barr distanced himself from Fletcher, while Chandler and his backers sought to play up those ties as well as Barr’s membership in a country club that until 2009 had never admitted an African-American. The race went down to the wire, and although Barr hoped a recheck of voting machines would narrow the gap, he decided against a recount and conceded to Chandler 10 days after the election.
Barr got an earlier start in his 2012 rematch, but Chandler got some major help from redistricting, thanks to a last-minute deal in the legislature which excised some of the southern counties that voted heavily for Barr in 2010 and added some traditionally Democratic-leaning counties to the northeast. Barr attacked Obama’s policies—especially on coal, an important issue to the district—and aggressively went after his rival, using a picture of his own baby daughter on a campaign mailer that called Chandler a “pro-abortion extremist.”
Going on the attack, Chandler brought up Barr’s guilty plea to possession of a fake ID when he was 19, claiming that Barr lied on a job application because he failed to mention the arrest when applying for the position with Fletcher’s administration. Barr responded with an ad calling the incident as a teenager a “dumb mistake” and blasting his rival as a “desperate politician scared of losing.”
Barr’s biggest break may have come when Chandler’s campaign attacked one of his ads in which a coal executive was shown as a coal miner, releasing a spot accusing the Republican of playing fast and loose with the truth. But Chandler’s move proved premature when it came out that the executive was a registered miner who was wearing his own hard hat in the spot. Polls showed the race tightening, and Barr got fundraising help from GOP Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and outside Republican groups that helped put him over the top.